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The Walker Between The Worlds

Chapter Text

Introduction

Hello everyone! It’s been years since I last posted but I’m finally back. I’ve come back with my first multi-chapter story which has technically been in development all these years. It’s always been in my mind and I just didn’t know how to go about writing it, but I finally decided to do it. This one will be a long post war/AU type fic with a heavy dose of Romione of course.

I guess you can say that this might canonically happen after Deathly Hallows and before the epilogue but I think I’ll just classify it as AU. Take note that this story will be wary of the events of The Cursed Child. I won’t actually include anything involved with the script book, just maybe small references here and there. This story will also include references about recent news of The Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the American Ministry of Magic. I will also try to follow or at least acknowledge certain events that may occur in the Fantastic Beasts movie, which is pretty exciting actually.

And now for the story details… I just wanted to brief you all with some background information regarding the story because I think it’ll be pretty confusing at first. I think it’ll be a bit controversial since well, the plot will be very dark and the new characters introduced will be…umm… interesting. Religious references will also occur (nothing big just like typical end of the world stuff and bible phrases) as it is essential to the plot. Anyways, in this story I will introduce a new different type of magic found in both worlds that many of you may be familiar with. Yes, it is dark, but for the most part, it will be used for good. I’m talking about voodoo. Trust me, I know it sounds bizarre but it’ll make sense later.

This is the summary… “An ancient prophecy tells of a great evil emerging from darkness that will arise to bring the apocalypse. Ron is somehow mysteriously connected while it is revealed that Hermione’s future hangs in the balance. With the help of Harry Potter, a grand new adventure will begin to determine the fate of the world.”

But this won't be just any ordinary end of the world story. No, this will have twists and moments that'll make you scream and even spark madness (just kidding). You’ll be introduced to a new world known as Deadside as well as new characters like Michael Leroi, the Shadow Man. More details will be explained in the prologue. 

The main theme will be the same as the Harry Potter franchise, death. There are also “side themes” like the romance and angst between Ron and Hermione, definitely adventure, some humor, and a horror element. Yes, some of you might get scared (literally) especially in later chapters. But no, this won’t be some kind of Stephen King novel, it’s still a Romione story. So pretty much this will have it all. I’ve been planning on this for a long time and I want to do this right, with as little as OOC development as possible.

The prologue will be the most confusing chapter as it doesn’t have any harry potter characters but it’s crucial that I leave it that way to set the storyline. I’ll be leaving authors notes either in the beginning or the end to try to explain any confusing parts. Each chapter will have a title as well as a date and setting to make it easier to follow along. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to message me or comment. I hope you enjoy the story and stay with me for the ride. I promise not to let you down. Without further ado, let’s go!

 

Chapter Text

November 9, 1888

Beneath Whitechapel - London, England

The sewers beneath London reeked of a pungent and filthy smell. He had been used to the stench after spending many months in his hideout, but something felt odd about that cold and eerie night. There were more articles in the paper that morning pertaining to the murders he committed. Witnesses and police finally believed to have identified him. They spoke of a man in his late 30’s with a thick chevron mustache and short hair. Reports indicated he was wearing an unbuttoned white shirt showcasing his skinny frame.

He looked down at himself, matching the description he had read. Coming to his senses he looked at the blade dripping with blood, looking down at the corpse of his latest victim.

“Another failure,” he said sighing in exasperation.

Jack backed away from the female corpse laying on the bed and proceeded out the door. Walking down the dimly lit corridor, he wiped away at his blade with a brown rag. He had made his hideout in the sewers beneath the Whitechapel district of London where he could practice his sick and evil rituals, albeit unsuccessfully. There was an idea, that by performing these sadistic acts, kidnapping women, loving them, binding his and her soul together and sacrificing them—it would uncover the power of immortality. He believed this after running in with a man who claimed to have done it and wanted desperately to know how.

He stopped in front of a door, turned to look behind to make sure no one was there and stepped inside. The sewers were like a maze that seemed to go on forever. The water was no longer running and the brick walls were a shade of slime green. Strolling alongside the walkway, Jack had countless thoughts about where he had gone wrong. Was immortality unachievable through the soul? He was a brilliant man but lacked the sensibility to see what he was doing rationally. He was going on a killing spree and his terrible ways rewarded him the name of Jack the Ripper.

He didn’t want it to come to this but after performing unsuccessful rituals on his female victims, the thought was once again on his mind—to carry it out on himself. Looking up, he finally came to a door-less entryway that led him to a room filled with newspapers and schematics pasted on the walls, stacks of parchment were scrambled all over the wet floor. A simple chair and desk were placed in the center of the room with a lamp and an open diary laid upon it. Looking back once more over his shoulder, he entered and sat down. 

He turned to look at the walls of the room. His ideas and notes dotted on the walls looked to be the work of a mad scientist. He looked back down at his diary and pinched the bridge of his nose with scrunched eyes, contemplating what was about to come next. 

He pulled out a quill from underneath his desk and began to write in his diary. 

“The ninth of November, 1888

By my deeds am I known—and I am known as Jack, Springheel Jack, Jack the Ripper. By my deeds am I known. And they are truly bloody. I took them all to my heart. Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catharine Eddowes, Mary Kelly—and loved them, truly loved them all. But the immortal power I sought within the sordid confines of their bodies—the still-beating of the organ of the soul—was not to be found. The ritual of the knife was to no avail… I am bereft, and must, therefore, perform that bloody ritual upon myself…”

“Stay your hand Jack and listen to what I have to say,” spoke a deep sinister echo. It screeched of several threatening voices blending into one menacing and evil tone.

Jack jumped up from his chair, raising his knife in defense. “How did you find this place? Who are you!?”

In front of the entrance to the room appeared a middle-aged man of aristocratic support who wore elegant but unkempt clothing, like a neglected gentleman. He sported striped purple pants, an orange button up shirt wrapped with a red bandana around the neck and a long open grey coat. His dark hair was slicked back with blonde highlights and had piercing blue eyes. A sword was held with both hands and used as a cane between his feet. The most terrifying feature of his appearance, though, was his mouth as it was constantly bleeding like a waterfall, hinting at a demonic nature.

“My name is Legion, for we are many. The immortal power that you seek does exist. It does, indeed, lie within the soul, but only within certain ones. Certain Dark Souls…” At that moment, the strange man lifted his left hand and produced a spirit-like purple entity with a dark core. It made a loud screeching noise that sounded of cries and despair.

“My God! What are you that you can produce such things from thin air!?” exclaimed Jack. He retreated back even further, now hitting the wall behind him. His breathing raced and he raised his knife even further up in defense.

“Merely an explorer, much like yourself,” said the man calmly.

“What is it that you want from me?”

At that moment, the man lowered his hand back toward the hilt of his sword, letting the dark spirit vanish. “You are an architect by trade, are you not?”

Jack gazed at the man astonishingly. He couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed. The temperature in the room dropped and the ambience felt like that of a nightmare.

“I am.”

Legion walked toward the desk. “Then I would have you build a cathedral to pain. A place where you and I and others like us may join together. A place of Asylum—for all the unique and misunderstood individuals that will follow you as the time of Armageddon approaches. And at the heart of Asylum, we shall construct a great dark engine powered by souls of equal hue and we shall harness their power to create an immortal army to punish and cleanse this pathetic world.” 

Jack furrowed his brow and opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. He couldn’t believe what he had just heard. “You want me to build you a cathedral? You must be mental! I don’t know who the bloody hell you think you are, but I’ve seen my fair share of tricks and games and you think you can waltz in here like some creepy bloke and make demands!?” 

“Tread carefully, Jack. I’ve but shown you a glimpse of what I’m capable of. I offer only what you need in return for your services.” Legion stepped forward. “You see… we’re the same, you and I—completely misunderstood. You can remain here and perform that senseless sacrifice upon yourself or join me for true immortality.”

Not backing down, Jack maintained his position shaking with nervousness. “Illusions are easy to come by. I’m not sure how you discovered my whereabouts but-”

Suddenly, Legion raised his sword with both hands, the blade facing the floor and harshly brought it down, hitting the wet surface with such ferocity. It uttered a strong clang sound and dark energy emitted from it. The parchment on the floor swirled around him and more blood dripped from the edges of his chin. The sight made Jack freeze in horror as he stared continuously at the man’s evil eyes. There was absolutely no way this was fiction. It was very much real.

“Don’t test me. Do you believe in witches and wizards Jack? What about bokors and voodoo warriors?” asked the malevolent voice.

The question caught Jack off guard. He still couldn’t move as he was stunned by what he had just witnessed, but tried to quickly compose himself. “What are you on about? What do you mean?”

“What I mean to say, Jack, is that the world you know is one half of the same coin. There is another world entirely here on this plane of Liveside which you do not perceive. Magic is very much real in this world that can completely change the way you see it. You just witnessed part of it.”

Discovering some new profound courage, he had enough of the nonsense he was hearing and finally straightened to face him like a man. “Bollocks! How do you expect me to believe such fantasies? What you did is all just a trick! I’ve heard enough! I’m going to-”

With a snap of Legion’s finger Jack was sent flying toward the ceiling of the room being held by a violent invisible force around his neck. He tussled and tried to escape the fierce grasp, but it was hopeless and he began to lose his breath.

“Oh they’re very much real, Jack. And that’s why I’ve come. To bring my kingdom into this earth and bring about the apocalypse. It is prophecy, our destiny, for we are many.”

The violent hold was released from him and Jack fell hard with a thud. Massaging his throat, he picked up his knife again in defense, coughing, trying to catch his breath. Whatever was at play here was no joke. So much had been dropped on him and now he was forced to believe in other worlds and magic as well. Perhaps the man he had encountered before about the ritual was right. Perhaps the stories he had heard were true. And maybe he had similar powers as the evil man before him. So much was running through his mind and it seemed he was captivated by the man’s charismatic behavior, like a powerful flame burning within his very heart at the edge of darkness.

“I will give you one final chance to join me Jack. I came to you because I know what you’re capable of. How I came to know about your activities is not important. Join me in our quest for Armageddon. You’ll be open to new worlds and ideas. Everything you have ever wanted at your disposal.”  

Jack remained in the defensive position with his blade still raised. He pondered about the evil man wanting to bring upon the apocalypse. Why him, he thought. Out of any time, any place, any one single person—it was him that had to endure his malevolent presence pressuring him to join him. What did building a cathedral have to do with anything? There were so many questions but he feared any inquisition would leave him for dead. “And where might I build this cathedral of yours?” he asked solely.

Legion smiled and waved his arm as if signaling over something. “Across the veil, in the darkness, amongst the restless spirits of those who have passed beyond. In the place known as Deadside…”

“Deadside? What’s that?” Jack inquired, appearing shocked at Legion and the preposterous situation at hand. The man promised immortality for a cathedral, with no real explanation for anything that he had just witnessed. One thing was for certain, this man was no ordinary man at all. He could sense a dark evil surrounding him. Blood continued to drip from his mouth. For the first real time that night, Jack felt fear, but was eager to learn more about him and how he was able to manipulate matter out of thin air.

His sinister voice spoke menacingly, “I have walked both planes of this world for thousands of millennia and have never encountered such a doubtful fool in my existence.”

“What!” blurted out Jack in dismay. The man had just confessed that he’s been living in this world for thousands of years but how was that even possible? Nothing made a bit of sense and he felt the fear in his chest grow with each passing second.

“There is a place far beyond death, where every last soul that ever walked this earth resides for eternity. There is no escaping this place—no exceptions for any soul. It is a place that has no hope, no past, or future—no boundaries to hold the evil, trapped as it is an unending present. A dimension of the dead, where the massed ranks of billions upon billions of souls roam this wasteland in search of living souls to devour. This spiritual plane, is known as Deadside, the place where everyone goes, without exception, when they die.”

Jack lowered his knife shakenly, heart pounding even faster. “Y-You’re mad… you can’t be serious…”

“It is true,” spoke Legion. “I will answer all the questions you have but for the time being, you must cross to Deadside Jack. Use your blade. Follow me into the darkness. Together we can rid this world of its pathetic nature. And you will indeed live forever. As I said, the power of immortality lies within the dark soul I conjured. It’ll be yours as soon as we cross beyond.”

Jack’s breathing had slowed down a bit. He looked down at the floor searching for answers. He turned his gaze to the walls and back at Legion. “Then, if I am to join you… I must die!” pronounced Jack. In a way, he thought, he was already planning on going out by suicide for one final attempt at achieving the immortal power he sought. And now was given an opportunity by a mad man proving such ferocious and evil power to grant his wishes in return for his help.

But could he trust this evil man? This was some sort of sick deal with the devil, but how could he be ensured with everything he had heard? He wasn’t about to question any more as he saw quite enough hint of the dark magic Legion conjured. It appeared as he had no choice in the matter and Jack looked more and more convincingly.

Legion turned his back toward him and began walking out of the room. He stopped halfway and looked over his shoulder at Jack. “It is prophecy. You see, there are events in the near future that will take place upon this world that will change everything. Destiny is very real Jack, and yours…. is in for a great surprise,” he said with an evil smile that sent chills down Jack’s core. “I have seen it. It is prophecy that we join along with others and bring about the apocalypse. We cannot fail, for we are many.”

Jack gazed at Legion’s backside for an eternity. Everything was moving so fast that he didn’t know what to think. He had so many questions. How could there be a whole other world where magic was done and another where there was life after death. And who really was this man? The herald to the apocalypse? The devil himself taunting and torturing him for his heinous crimes? And now he was talking about some prophecy like the second coming. He had heard enough and while he wasn’t going to get any solid answers at the moment, he came to a conclusion. Although everything sounded far off, this was it, everything he wanted and had been searching for his whole life. The power to live forever and new worlds to discover.

He began thinking about the women of his life. The women that he had spent months loving unknowingly, killing. The women that were sacrificed for his own sick power fantasy. It seemed more true than ever, that he was just the same as the man who appeared before him.

Jack took a deep breath and took one last look at Legion. He just stood there, waiting, knowing what was about to happen next. Jack moved around the desk, closed his diary and placed both hands on his blade. He raised both arms fearlessly, awaiting the painful cost of living forever.

“For we are many…” he exclaimed, before striking the blade straight into his torso. He made profound gurgling noises as he fell to his knees surrounded by a pool full of his own blood. With one last gaze at Legion, he tumbled over dead.

“Amen to that…”


 

(Present Day) August 13, 2000

Bayou Paradis - Louisiana, United States

“No, no, no, no… NO!” screamed Nettie as she woke up violently, panting and looking around the room shakenly. Darkness encompassed the room above the Wild at Heart Bar. The fan above on the ceiling continued spinning, the sticky Louisiana heat unavoidable. Mike had insisted she stay the night and after fruitless attempts to try to leave drunk, she got tired of talking him out of it.

“What’s the problem Agnetta?” asked Mike’s deep raspy voice, waking up quickly to comfort her.

“There’s a darkness coming… I had a dream Shadow Man… A really bad dream. A Deadside dream. Everything I was talking to you about last night—the Five are here, the heralds of the apocalypse. Deacon’s file confirms everything I feared. The end’s coming Shadow Man. An ancient prophecy tells the return of a great evil to Deadside. A terrible force gathering Dark Souls to its darker heart and using their powers to cross over into this world and bring about Apocalypse.”

Mike furrowed his brow and looked at her strangely through her fast talking. Nettie was a powerful voodoo priestess, a practitioner of dark magic for the good of mankind. While she appeared to look young, she was in fact centuries old, her soul inhabiting the body of an African woman in her mid-20’s whom unfortunately became involved in Nettie’s schemes. It was because of her that Mike was now to do her bidding. Prophetic dreams were nothing new to him.

“Hold on a minute. Don’t tell me you’re having these crazy nightmares again Nettie. Half of the time they’re bullshit and-”

“No!” exclaimed Nettie as she stood up from the bedside and started pacing around the dark room. “Not this time Shadow Man… I know when evil is coming, true evil. I sensed it with the Riddle boy remember? But this… this is completely different. This evil seems to be breaking out of Deadside onto Liveside.”

Mike continued to look at her intently. The two had been familiar with the adventures of the golden trio. Unlike most wizards and witches around the world, they were alarmed to Voldemort’s presence but decided against taking action. Nettie claimed the Potter boy would soon defeat him and was destined to do so. Mike had been a bit more uneasy about the manner but was reassured when the papers came after the war.

“So you’re saying another dark wizard is trying to take over the world again? The kid handled it Nettie. Very well at that. I’m sure they can handle what’s coming.”

Nettie’s bare feet stopped pacing and she made her way out toward the deck. The night was clear and although a bit sticky from the weather, a rustling wind made its way through the open doorway. She spoke a bit more loudly, her accent vibrating though Mike’s ears. “You don’t understand. The Potter boy’s fate was involved in the prophecy created. It was his destiny to defeat Voldemort. This time, however… I saw something different, not a dark wizard… something more terrifying.”

“Which is?”

“I’m not quite sure, but you were in it and the five serial killers Deacon talked about. It’s vague but you, Shadow Man, must go and recover the dark souls from Deadside before this new evil collects them.”

Mike sat up alongside the edge of the bed and looked at Nettie with a fierce gaze through the darkness. She was always on about new threats and evils trying to emit from Deadside. What could possibly be new about this? He gazed down at his bare chest where the Mask of Shadows lay implanted through his skin.

He recounted the many times he heard the story about the ancient protectors of the world.

He was a Shadow Man—an African warrior blessed by the gods with supernatural powers to protect the world of the living souls from the ones trying to cross over from Deadside. If it weren't for these ancient voodoo protectors, there would be no Liveside. He always got a good laugh about how his life had been transformed since his family was killed. Nettie said implanting the Mask of Shadows was for the best to ease the torment he suffered through knowing it was his fault that his family was gone. From then on he explained he deserved everything bad that came his way.

“I guess I must stop this evil from bringing about the End of All Things.” Mike said gesturing up and down with his fingers.

Nettie finally turned away from the deck and went inside to face him. “You can’t do it alone this time Shadow Man. I know you are the walker between the worlds. I can’t go to Deadside and Jaunty’s next to useless in both worlds. But in my dream I saw something else—a shade of red. A boy… no… a man. The Potter boy’s best friend.”

Mike did a double take at her and firmly stood. That was a clear indication to him that this was all a false alarm. “You’ve got to be joking Nettie… So what are you saying? That the kid’s friend can help me or must help me defeat this supposedly new evil you’re on about? Prophetic dreams my ass, I don’t need that skinny ginger sonofabitch. And I still think what you’re saying is bullshit.”

Nettie shook her head in frustration. “Mike it’s prophecy! I don’t know what the hell his role in all of this is but he’s a part of it! And you know damn well what I can do to you if you refuse to believe. I don’t make up bullshit like this, just look at the last fucking dark lord that tried to take over the world and had people doubting about his resurrection. Nobody in any Ministry wanted to believe and they didn’t do a darn thing until people started getting murdered. Doing nothing will only doom us sooner and I know you’re not stupid enough to let that happen.”

“As it ever was…” said Mike sitting back down defeated.

“Listen, you ain’t never confronted anything like this evil. It’s so pure, not even the ancient protectors of the Dark Souls could destroy it. They can only banish it from Deadside. They knew it’d come back one day, hence the prophecy telling of its return. The power of the ancients is all but gone now and the Dark Souls that evil desires lie unprotected. What you have to do, Shadow Man, is to go to Deadside and recover the Dark Souls. Take them into your own protection—before the evil gathers them to its terrible heart.”

Thinking about this more rationally, Mike wondered about the possibilities of what taking a back seat would entail. The wizarding world would spring into action, sure. He’d be able to live in the no-maj world without a worry. But then again, Agnetta will have him suffer for not believing and helping her. She was cruel that way.

Mike placed his elbow on his thigh and rubbed his chin taking everything in. “Okay, so let me get this straight. If I don’t recover these Dark Souls then the world’s gonna end, am I right?”

“You got it.”

“Shit… But how can you be so sure of this so called prophecy Nettie? And how the hell is it that you know all about this ancient stuff?”

“Because I am Shadow Man. And it’s difficult to explain… there have been stories among tribes for years whom have thought to sense evil’s presence. It’s no gamble, we have to protect everyone at all costs. And I need you to find him, Potter’s friend. Bring him to the church and we’ll get everything sorted. In the meantime, I have to go read and prepare more about this prophecy and the evil it is said to bring.”

Nettie finally turned on the bedside lamp and began to pick up her things from the floor. Mike watched her, doubt still filling his mind.

“I… I don’t know, sounds a bit premature since nothing bad has been happening. And I’m not in the mood to babysit these stupid wizard police. Besides, I suppose he’ll come willingly wanting to hold my hand as well?”

“Listen, I haven’t sensed anything overtly bad happening to the trio ever since the dark lord but you must do anything possible to bring his ass here. He’s been shut away all his life, coming second and living in a shadow. I think it’s time for him to make a name for himself, don’t you?”

“I think he already has… as a self-doubting jackass. And what of his little girlfriend hmm? I suppose you want me to bring the smartest of the three along too? And what about Potter? Might be difficult considering they’re all A-list celebrities now.”

Nettie stopped and looked carefully at Mike. There was more to the prophecy that she hadn’t mentioned which involved Hermione Granger. She couldn’t bring herself to say anything so she made a note to avoid it at all costs. “Not Granger… not yet… bring Potter if you must but make sure Weasley’s here,” she whispered.

“I still can’t believe I’m being sent halfway across the world for his sorry ass…”

“Do it for your family Mike. The world needs you. I know you’re tormented but-”

“Stop. I’ll do it. But for myself,” he said pointing at the artifact implanted on his chest. Anything to get her to shut up about his family. He tried to avoid any talk about them as much as possible and while Nettie thought it hopeless, she respected his wishes.

“Now you’re talking. Take Deacon’s file and do anything possible to convince Weasley to come to the church on the hill. I’ve kept your stuff safe for you there. I’ll see you soon.”

“Right.”

 

 

Chapter Text

August 17, 2000

Ministry of Magic - London, England

The Ministry of Magic seemed to be empty that Friday night except for a few department employees and one Hermione Granger. The annoyed look on her face had become more prevalent in recent days. It was becoming somewhat of a habit to find the bushy haired brunette sitting in her office to avoid seeing the one person that could have caused her to be there—Ron Weasley.

In light of the battle of Hogwarts, the golden trio had established themselves well into their careers at the ministry. After the war, Gawain Robards, head of the Auror Department, was highly impressed by the trio's efforts in bringing down Voldemort. He offered each of them an opportunity to train to become one of the elite and Harry and Ron took him up on his offer. Hermione considered, but ultimately declined as she had enough of the fighting and decided for a much quieter approach—going back to Hogwarts for her seventh year.

Another reason she declined was due to finding her parents in Australia to reverse the memory charm she had cast. She tried carefully to withdraw from the burrow one morning only to be confronted by an exasperated Ron. The row that followed had woken everyone in the burrow and after the family's exhaustive efforts through their mourning of Fred, Mr. Weasley made arrangements to set up a port key for the two of them to go.

In the end, Hermione was glad that everyone wanted to contribute to helping find her parents, but couldn't help feeling like a nuisance to a family who had just lost a son, brother and close friend.

After a lively summer of recovering her parent's memories, spending time with friends and family, and saying their goodbyes for school and Auror training—they had finally entered the first moment of the rest of their lives. It took more of a toll on Ron since being away from Hermione with little time spent made him uneasy.

She insisted she stay with her parents once they got home to try to recuperate lost time as a family and while Ron felt a bit selfish, wanting her to stay, he could only agree to regain her parent's trust. It would also give him and his own family time to lament for the loss of his brother.

Once they were apart from each other again, Harry went out of his way to lighten things up and tried to make the situation much more simple at training. Ron felt grateful for the distractions and together they had pushed and helped each other to the best of their abilities.

Harry even helped Ron conjure a double from an earlier lesson in training, enabling him to travel to Hogsmeade and surprise Hermione for her birthday. Their secret meetings had come to an end, though, once Mrs. Weasley found out about what was going on, making Ron's face bright red like a tomato after being sent a howler, which was questioned by Robards himself. Being Harry Potter's friend did have its perks though, as he was allowed to stay in the division much to his relief.

Upon graduating, they congratulated themselves on their achievements and focused next on getting work that served their interests. Harry and Ron were now trained Aurors and Hermione received a job offer in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, but opted for a position in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.

Through fierce determination and hard work, Harry, Ron and Hermione made a name for themselves in the ministry, while many witches and wizards believed them to have only gained success through their famous reputation. This upset Hermione to the core and only caused her to push harder to help rewrite some of the pureblood laws enacted during Voldemort's reign.

After saving enough money, she had moved in with Ron about two years after the war, which enabled Ginny to move in with Harry, much to the protest of her mother. Living with Ron had been wonderful. The potential she knew he had was now evidently shown. They often went to work together unless Ron had a mission, in which she would sometimes go days feeling sick and worried about her best friend and love.

He had cared and done wonderful things to make the relationship they shared all the more exciting. Planning secret dates, helping bring the more easy-going and lighthearted side of her to life, and supporting her work were just some of the thoughtful things he had done. Although, Hermione would, on occasion, protest against any gifts she received since she informed him they were 'just materialistic items,' yet Ron admitted he loved the gesture of providing his girlfriend with nice things.

Then, there were other aspects of their relationship. Ron was never one to shy away from a row and some days it dawned on Hermione if they were destined to it forever. Their bickering had taken a nosedive after the war, but there were always instances of Ron's lack of confidence and her criticism which always ignited harsh banter.

She was feeling another guilt ridden trip at that moment in her office due to their most recent row. Ron had seen a moving photo of herself and William Knight, a co-worker of hers, smiling at one another in an article in Witch Weekly. It appeared Rita Skeeter was up to her no good gossip talk and managed to write an article on the two with the title, "Trouble in Paradise?" much to Ron's anger.

She had found him on the couch that evening looking irritated, while accusing Knight of interests that involved being more than just co-workers with her. His justification was the same old, "I know how men think Hermione and they don't usually smile with that many teeth out unless they want something from you," which she scoffed at.

He just wouldn't drop the subject and the moment she lashed out on him, she regretted every word. She tried to explain that they had finished coming out of a hearing and thus, were smiling due to making progress on a case, but he wouldn't have nothing of it and only continued.

If truth be told she hated each row to have occurred between them. She even considered it unhealthy and draining at the numerous times the same fowl play was happening. But one thing always prevented her from even thinking about leaving and she felt he knew this too. The love they shared and the numerous situations that tried to break that love only made them that much stronger. They shared a love so fierce, fueled by their own stubborn passion, and resulted in something only the two of them would understand.

Ron had informed her one day after a particular row that, perhaps their fighting throughout their years was the foundation for their love. Hermione tried to protest but he explained to her about what he meant—that arguing only fueled them to become much more aggressively vehement towards one another. He remarked that without it, maybe the flame would burn out, yet she believed they just clicked, by experiencing what no one else had throughout their adventures. To her, there was not one scenario where Ron was not in her future and he always confessed the same to her after making up.

But tonight had been different. Tonight she felt like she couldn't handle the tense situation any longer. They have argued for years but it seemed she had reached the pivotal point of his accusations and jealousy. Avoiding Ron by going back to work was one thing, but stopping mid-row with tears and frustration on her face, leaving him motionless without a word was another.

She never gave up on a row, she was tenacious that way. They usually avoided each other's presence and would stop talking until the elephant in their small flat couldn't get any larger. At that point they would apologize and try to reconcile the situation. Their resolution was usually filled with hundreds of kisses and clumsy looks after emerging from the bedroom with stupid grins on their faces.

Making up was always a wonderful feeling but there were some arguments even Hermione just couldn't repeat exhaustively without being drained at the memory of them all. Of course, she never believed it was always going to be all sunshine and rainbows, but perhaps a little more trust on Ron's part would do them good.

That's when she would feel guilty because it took two people to tussle and she wasn't any less to blame. Sometimes she was too hard on him without her knowing. She was a complicated mess that couldn't overlook any extraneous detail and he was much more simple, yet willful of his humorous heart. That attraction between opposites, the necessity of one another to complete a love whole with contrasting traits seemed to be fulfilled and she believed no one could say otherwise.

One thing that kept her mind from overanalyzing a situation was through her work and books—that is why she was found sitting uncomfortably in her office. She had flooed back to the ministry in spite of Ron's shouts of "where are you going" and "I'm not finished with you yet" and had made her way to her office with loud sniffling sounds echoing through the empty halls.

It was about an hour since she had left and while she tried vigorously to continue her work on the new proposal regulations for house elves, he couldn't escape her mind. She gazed at a picture of the two of them sitting on her desk. It was taken during their venture into the Gold Coast of Australia after rescuing Hermione's parents. Before they had left, Ron surprised her by asking for a photo together with Mrs. Granger's muggle camera. He was fascinated by it despite not being a moving picture because he thought it really captured the moment perfectly. They were by the water and Ron had kissed her on the cheek making Hermione smile with joy.

Seven years of friendship and about, what, four years of love—had been shown in that photo. Hermione smiled despite knowing what loomed ahead the moment she got home. Things were so much easier during the time of that photo.

She jumped at the sound of hard knocking outside her office door. "Hermione? Are you there?"

It was Ron.

"Go away. I'm busy and not to be in a talking mood Ronald," she hissed, coming to her senses. She knew he would barge right in and tried to quickly fix herself and continue working.

Ron entered her office swiftly with an apologetic look on his face. He looked tired and rugged despite feeling downhearted for what he had accused her of. The hour since she had left had given him plenty of time to think about what he had said. Hermione had always made sure to show him just how much she loved him and how grateful she was to have him. Likewise, he did the same, except when his tendencies to overthink situations with irrational thoughts consumed him.

She continued to write, ignoring his presence. He looked down at her petite frame and her wave of curls tied into a neat ponytail. She never left in the middle of a row, but it soon dawned on him after she left that it had been because of his stupid insecurities again. This was beginning to get old and it seemed if things were ever going to get better between them, he had to learn to lose those wicked thoughts.

"Hermione-"

"Don't. Don't even start," she cut in with an annoyed tone in her voice.

Ron was taken aback but quickly composed himself. What did he expect? Things weren't just going to get better overnight. He had to at least try to level with her to be on speaking terms again. He scratched the back of his head looking for the right words to formulate his apology. "Please listen... I just… I always muck things up. I can never seem to get this right," he said a bit too softly.

She stopped her quill and turned to face him. He remembered the times year after year where they were stuck in dangerous situations with Harry and while Hermione always had a disheveled look on her face, Ron would argue it was the most adorable he'd ever seen.

"Ron, I don't want to do this. I told you before. It was just some stupid picture from Rita Skeeter. Will and I just work together and not even during the same shifts! We came out of a hearing in that picture happy about our progress and discussing what our next course of action would be for the new elf bill we've been trying to pass. I can't say I wasn't to blame in the row as well but I can't keep living with you telling me to back off from every male that I interact with. We can't keep doing this. We instigate, we fight, makeup and then fight even more! I'm tired of it Ron! I really mean it this time. Please understand that in order for things to be okay between us there are issues we need to get sorted out. Please…" she pleaded with more tears forming between her eyes.

Ron looked down in shame. Having always been second best and living in Harry's shadow had a long term effect on his outlook on certain things, namely Hermione. He knew she would never act on anyone else, but he just didn't know why it affected him so much. It began in second year with the ridiculous Gilderoy Lockhart, then again more prevalently in fourth year with Viktor Krum, sixth year with McLaggen, and lastly—the one he feared she'd run after the most due to the locket, Harry.

He worked himself over on his self-esteem issues and figured Hermione was right. She wasn't the only one who reprimanded him on his confidence as Ginny had called him out on it more than once.

"I know…" he said sheepishly, still not feeling the courage to look at her directly.

"Then why do you insist, time and time again, that they're going to court me when I've got you! I love you. I'm with you for a reason. You're the only man I've ever loved and we've been through so much for this type of behavior to continue. Please… I'm tired of all the fighting and shouting. That's why I came here, that's why I always come here! I just couldn't do it anymore…" she said wiping her face with the back of her arm. Her robes were now wet with tears.

Ron slumped down on an empty chair across from Hermione with his eyes still facing the floor. "I just can't understand why I get riled up so easily when another bloke approaches you. I still have Riddle's voice in my head telling me I'll never be good enough. Never good enough for you. I know you love me and it's just so bloody difficult to get my head out of my arse for this one stupid quality I have. I don't deserve you…" He raised his arms up and let them drop to his sides, looking defeated and unworthy of her love.

Hermione was appalled at what she had heard. Normally he never talked about feeling forlorn or second-rate to the men Ron hated during those classic jealousy rows. He always mentioned they had other plans that didn't involve solely friendship with her and had called them out on it when he would see them gaping at her. But he hardly, if ever anymore, mentioned she was better off with someone else.

Ever since he had confessed about what the locket had shown him, leaving Ron like a frail, broken person—she tried, at every moment to remind him how special he was to her. It appeared now, more than ever, that he needed her, but it seemed like she was the one who needed him.

Hermione shook her head, stood and walked over to him and sat plainly on his lap, earning a surprised look from him. "Ronald Bilius Weasley, what did I tell you about doubting your abilities? Goodness sakes Ron! You're one of the best Aurors this ministry has ever seen! You've been on countless missions without Harry alone and have apprehended some of the vilest men to Azkaban. You're brilliant at Chess—which has made you great with strategies and you've helped taken down Voldemort and have taught me a thing or two about concealment charms and are wonderful in bed and…"

At that moment her cheeks turned a bright red after realizing what she had said through her stammering and he couldn't suppress a grin coming onto his face. "And most importantly, you make your family and I proud. I'm just so very lucky to have you in my life." She fluttered again and he embraced her, planting an affectionate kiss on her lips.

"I guess I really am barmy aren't I?"

"Yes but I'm used to it. And besides… you wouldn't be you without it," she said smiling brightly at him.

He looked at her, searching for more answers, doubt still filling his mind about what he had done. "Hey… um… I know I said some things before. I just… I'm sorry. I really am trying hard to be less judgmental and less wary about these things."

"I know… I said some truly horrible things to you as well. I-I'm sorry…" she spoke softly, trying to prevent the next wave of tears to flow through. She laid her head on the crook of his shoulder to rest and continued. "I never meant any of it. Honest, Ron… we just get so caught up in ours rows, I guess I stop thinking logically sometimes."

"Sometimes?" he inquired with a small laugh.

Hermione nudged him on the chest. "Ow! Hey! I'm only joking…"

"Now you've ruined the mood," spoke Hermione as she climbed off his lap with a small smile on her face. She walked toward the window overlooking the outside of her office. The walkways in her department were empty and she felt like a weight was lifted off her chest now that some things were said to make their moods better.

She felt his arms wrap around her hips and his warm breath upon her neck causing her to shiver slightly with pleasure.

"I know I'm not perfect. I know we fight and say things we don't mean, and I'm sure it won't be the last, but… I love you. I know we can work this out. We've done much worse and have come out stronger than ever before. You're brilliant. I'll never stop giving up on us."

A small tear fell from her eye and she turned around slowly to face him. She gazed into his ice blue eyes and fell in love all over again. She moved a bit of his hair away from his face to look at him clearly.

"You just continue to surprise me Ron Weasley. I'll never give up on us either…" she remarked with a soft kiss on his lips. "In fact… (kiss)… I think… (kiss)… you're stuck with me."

"What? I don't even get a choice in the manner?"

"Nope."

"Fair enough, I suppose," he said with a genuine smile that had been missing all night. She laid her head against his shoulder again and they stood together, embraced, for what felt like an eternity. It was Ron who brought her out of her small daze taking comfort in his arms.

"You know…" Ron started with a curious and lusty tone of voice. "We've never done it in your office..."

At his words Hermione's face grew red and quickly backed away from him. "Oh no. Get your head out of the gutter. We're not…practicing coitus in my office. Especially during such a time where we're barely back on speaking terms," she said, her ears feeling hot.

"Practicing coitus? Bloody hell woman, so much for trying to be subtle about shagging," Ron proclaimed, trying but failing to suppress his laughter.

"You know what I meant... And besides, your mother expects us to be at the Burrow soon. I was regretting to have to feign sick to avoid you, but now that we're on better terms, we can't miss it."

"Oh c'mon Hermione! We have time! And no one's here to notice. And to be quite honest… I think you enjoy the idea of it too."

Hermione looked away with her face turning an even more shade of red at his remark. It was usual, after their fighting to become what George once referred to as "hot and bothered." Normally a heavy snog session followed after making up, which led to some wild bed acrobatics and Hermione couldn't deny the idea of fornicating in her office seemed quite… tempting.

"No! I'm going to pack up my things and we have to go home to get ready to leave. Your mother won't let us hear the last of it if we arrive late again."

"Aww you're no fun," moaned Ron, who turned around to look back outside the window.

Hermione ignored him, picking up her paperwork and bag from her desk. She ruffled her papers inside neatly and proceeded to get her coat.

Ron continued looking out the window and began to see a small blue light begin to get bigger at the end of the walkway. "Hermione… what's that?"

She stopped midway to turn and look out the window. The glow was getting bigger and brighter and she squinted her eyes to try to discern what it was.

"I'm not sure… but it's coming towards us."

With a flash, the bright blue light sprang though the window causing Ron and Hermione to fling back in cover. They looked at each other to make sure they were okay and gazed upon the blue stag to have taken form in front of them.

It was Harry's patronus.

"Ron, it's urgent. Robards says we need to go to Whitechapel in muggle London for an investigation. I know it's late and last moment's notice, but we have to be there in 10 min. I'm about to leave the Burrow. See you there."

As quickly as the bright stag shined in, it began to vanish after revealing its message. Hermione looked incredulously at the spot where the stag once stood.

"You can't be serious… not another mission, not now," she spoke quietly, looking up at him for answers.

Ron looked back down at the floor. Hermione always worried about what were known as "Eleventh Hour Investigations." They could be called at any time to investigate a scene involving dark magic. Most were nothing too big, but Harry and Ron have had their fair share of bad days involving near-death experiences, which troubled the Weasley family and Hermione of course.

"I'm sure it's nothing big. We get these almost all the time. It's a shame I won't be able to make it to mum's though. I'm starving if I'm honest."

Hermione continued to gaze at his eyes. "I know but… it's just unfair that you and Harry get called to almost every single last minute investigations. Please just… be careful. There are Death Eaters still roaming around out there and if anything were to ever happen to you…" she blinked back more tears having formed in her eyes.

Ron walked forward and embraced her in a tight hug. "Hey… nothing's gonna happen. What happened to, 'you're one of the best Aurors this ministry has ever seen, eh?' Besides, I'll be with Harry and the others. Pretty sure we're gonna just investigate some poor bloke or something, okay?"

Hermione looked up at him with a down expression. She brought her hand to the back of his head and pulled him down for a deep kiss. "Promise me you'll come home alright? I'll go out and look for you if I have to," she said, causing Ron to smirk in amusement.

"I'm sure you would. I make the same promise every time I leave for an important mission," he laughed. "But right, we'll probably make it in time for dessert. Save me a plate!"

At the mention of food Hermione smiled and gave him one last affectionate kiss before letting him go. "You'd better be off; you don't want Robards to get you in trouble for being late again."

He nodded and proceeded to leave out the door. He turned the knob, but instead of leaving, he looked back at her with a randy glare. "We still have to consummate our relationship in here by the way," he said with a specific tone.

Hermione's cheeks grew pink and returned a much more intimate look to him which secretly meant she was on board with the idea.

"Absolutely not."

He grinned and left quietly out the door, letting it shut. She watched him walk through the dimly lit hallway toward the exit and felt grateful for reconciling with him and at his reassurances to stay safe. Yet, as the shade of red that was walking away from her, she still couldn't help but feel worried at this particular call.

She gathered her things, locked her office door and left swiftly for the Atrium on the eighth floor. Getting off the lift, she passed the Fountain of Magical Brethren and proceeded to head toward the fireplaces on the left-hand side. As she was walking she noticed a trail of small drops of red blood on the floor but thought nothing of it. Reaching the fireplace, she muttered the location of her flat and threw the floo powder down.

As she was consumed by the green flames, Hermione failed to notice a tall figure that stood on the other side of the statue. A man grasping a sword between his legs like a cane had been staring upon the flames until she disappeared. An evil smile crept across his face as he vanished into the night without a trace.

Chapter Text

August 17, 2000

The Burrow – Ottery St. Catchpole, Devon, England

Earlier in the day, Hermione thought she would be spending it at home sulking instead of having what was supposed to be a fun and lively dinner with the Weasley family. Cooking and baking still weren't her strong points but she made every attempt to bring a nice plate of food or dessert whenever she visited the Burrow with Ron. He had informed her that the gesture was nice but Mrs. Weasley felt it unnecessary as there was already plenty of food to go around.

Hermione continued to bring plates of baked goods, saying the gesture was all that mattered and even felt proud when other members of the family would dig into her homemade macarons, not going unnoticed by Mrs. Weasley. She felt a bit apprehensive about entering this time without a dish to share, but knew what Ron would say if she turned back.

She had gone to her flat to change from her work robes to something more comfortable and quickly apparated right next to the garden. As she looked ahead at the Burrow she looked around, sighed, and began walking toward the front door. The night was cool with clear skies overlooking the Weasley home. She gazed up at the glowing stars with a hopeful look, her mind still on the sudden investigation that caused Ron to leave so eagerly.

The Eleventh Hour Investigations pushed her over the edge a little too much and while she tried on one occasion to talk Ron into taking more of a 'desk job' to ease her nerves—a row had broken out. Hermione even tried talking with Harry but he indicated he had no right to try to influence him away from what he worked so hard for.

At hearing about her worried expressions George had informed her that he was also trying to convince Ron to join him in his shop, but that too had backfired. Ron believed that they were undermining his skills as an Auror which Hermione refuted, mentioning she wanted him safe and away from dark magic.

Nonetheless, Ron continued working to the best of his ability and focused on his duties. Hermione had also given up on persuading him to join his brother's shop.

Still gazing at the night sky, Hermione walked forth up the front stairs of the Burrow and knocked on the wooden door. After a few seconds, it opened slowly. "Oh Hermione, it's so good to see you! Please come in come in," motioned Mrs. Weasley.

"Hello Mrs. Weasley, thank you, it's nice to see you too," Hermione said as Mrs. Weasley gave her a big hug that made it almost too hard to breathe.

"No need for formalities anymore dear. You're family now. It's Molly okay?"

Hermione gave her a small smile and was rushed into the kitchen swiftly. The rest of the Weasley family was at the Burrow with the exception of Bill, Victoire, Fleur and Charlie. Bill's family was away on vacation with the Delacours and Charlie was working on a new species of dragon discovered in the mountains of Slovakia.

Mr. Weasley stood from his seat and embraced Hermione in a tight clasp. "Ah Hermione, it's nice to see you! How are your parents? Nice to break away from the ministry eh? Too bad Harry and Ron can't join us, but don't you worry I'm sure they're just investigating some poor old bloke."

Hermione once again displayed a small smile. "Hello Mr. Weasley. Yes, they're doing well with their new practice. Work has been…ongoing and hectic but I've been managing. And it's funny, Ron said the same thing before he left. I just…I hope they're both okay."

"I'm sure they are dear. I hear Gawain says they're one of the best! Anyways, Ginny and George are in the living room. Why don't you go say hello? I'll set the table. Percy and Audrey should be here any minute."

Hermione nodded and proceeded into the living room. She found Ginny and George playing chess on the table.

"Hermione!" exclaimed Ginny standing up to hug her good friend. Since not in Quidditch season with the Harpies, Ginny had much more time to spend with her family and friends and took every opportunity to meet up with them. She especially liked to meet with Hermione as she knew all too well how living with an Auror was.

"Hey Gin, how are you? It's been a while! And you start pre-season again soon don't you?"

"Doing great! And yes in a few days we're back at training. I'm just a bit nervous about Harry and Ron leaving so suddenly again. I hope they can make it back in time for dessert. I hardly get to see that brother of mine."

"Oh I'm sure they'll be back in time," said George standing up. "You know Ron. Never misses dessert."

"Good to see you too George," Hermione said with a grin as she went to embrace him.

"Oh, right. Nice to see you too. I mean it though; Ron hardly misses mum's pies. He'll ditch whatever git he has to send to Azkaban with another Auror just to enjoy them."

Hermione's grin grew wider and gave a short laugh. "Well I hope you're right about that."

"When aren't I? And I can see you're still iffy about him battling dark wizards. Why don't you try convincing him again to join me at the shop? I've got big plans on expanding our franchise to Zonko's and might need some assistance. I know Ron likes being an Auror but just some food for thought you know?"

"Sod off George, you know Ron's not leaving anytime soon," declared Ginny with an eye roll. "Besides, knowing you, you'd probably make him work for free or something. How do you expect him to buy Hermione a ring with no wage?"

At the mention of a ring, Hermione's cheeks turned pink and she looked toward the floor trying to avoid their gazes.

"Of course I won't make him work for free Gin. In fact, salary's not half bad. We can't have him give Hermione one of those muggle lollipop rings. He might even make more than an Auror."

Ginny scoffed and sat back on her chair. Hermione continued to look a bit unsettled with pink cheeks, looking back and forth between the two.

"Anyways Hermione, you should mention it to him again in passing, as a suggestion I mean. I want to tell him again as well but with so many bloody missions, it's hard to get a hold of that prat. If you can?"

Hermione nodded. "I'll see if I can mention it to him again. Hopefully he doesn't bite my head off this time."

George's eyebrows shot up and took a quick glance at Ginny. "Oh…right. You two had a row about this huh? Do you ever not have a row about anything?"

At this Hermione frowned and looked at the floor feeling guilty. George was always one for theatrics but on that given day, she would have preferred if no mention of her rowing with his brother was brought up.

"Shut up George!" remarked Ginny with an annoyed tone that made Hermione feel a bit grateful.

George felt the sudden tension and gave a nervous grin. "Sorry mum. You'll be alright Hermione. Just make sure his tummy's full when you ask. But thanks in advance! I'll see you two in the kitchen, gotta use the loo," he said with a sheepish smirk. He sped quickly up the stairs in a flash.

Ginny shook her head and smiled at Hermione once more. "You know George, it's still been hard for him with Fred gone and all. He feels he has to uphold his presence."

"It's fine actually, doesn't bother me," Hermione lied. "Whatever makes him be himself again you know? It took Ron so much time as well, much like you Gin. It's best to just enjoy all the time we have to spend with one another don't you think?"

Ginny smiled and nodded. She motioned for Hermione to have a seat and continue the game of chess she started with George. They talked about more things relating to her progress with her new elf bill and the possibility of moving departments. Hermione was also astounded by the wild and horrific stories Ginny was telling of last season with her teammates.

Hermione began to feel much more comfortable and even agreed to a drink of Firewhisky George had left behind. After the stressful day she was having, she began to feel a bit more at ease with her conversations with Ginny.

Ron has informed her that she needed to release her inhibitions and bring the much more live Hermione to life on occasion to save her from going mad. He always believed she worked too much and while proud, he argued fun time was needed for the "little things." It appeared Ron was right in that respect Hermione thought.

After a few funny stories about the ministry and injuries suffered by others on the Quidditch pitch, the tone of their conversation did a complete U-turn. It had begun to die down when the topic that was constantly on their minds appeared more visibly on their faces.

"Do you worry about him a lot? Does he mention all the things they have to go through sometimes?" spoke Ginny in a soft tone, gazing at the fireplace.

Hermione sighed and looked up at the Weasley clock. She was happy to note that Ron's hand was pointed at "work" and not "mortal peril." Ginny followed her gaze.

"They can take care of themselves you know? It's hard to believe really, my brother, a fine Auror he turned out to be. Goofy but a fine wizard indeed."

"Somehow I felt he was always destined for greatness. Lately I've been feeling like I'm too hard on him. He's wonderful and does great things but sometimes I wonder why he's stuck with me. You heard George, we row about the most trivial things Gin. Maybe we-"

"Hermione. My brother loves you. He's mad about you!"

"Yes but Gin, today we had another row. We're on good terms now but I just feel like he deserves better sometimes. I criticize too much and often don't give him the credit he deserves. Even the way I asked him to join your brother at his shop—it was polite but I realized it almost seemed like I didn't believe he was cut out to be an Auror. I chastise him for his jealousy but who am I to say anything when I make him insecure? I don't know Gin…"

Ginny took a swig of her Firewhisky and shook her head at Hermione. "Are you sure you're alright because you're starting to sound like his sixteen-year-old self you know? Please don't start thinking like that. Look at me. I was a little girl with a silly crush on Harry Potter! But it just feels right. Us. Yes, you fight over and over but it's because both of you are so pigheaded. Neither wants to give up on a row because you mean something to each other! Nobody's perfect Hermione. I can see you just want what's best for him and for him to strive to do his best. That's why he loves you. It was always you. Just…go with the flow. You probably don't know this but it was also Fred who first believed you two would end up together."

Hermione stared intently at Ginny and raised her eyebrows. "Really? What do you mean? Did he mention anything?"

Ginny nodded and looked back up at the family clock. Fred's hand was still facing toward "lost" and hadn't moved since that dreadful night at Hogwarts. Harry also received a hand on the clock and both him and Ron were currently pointed at "work." Ginny kept a miniature version in her bag every time she traveled with the Harpies as she was heavily concerned for Harry during his missions.

"Fred talked to Ron about you from the start. As you know he gave him that book on how to charm witches."

"How can I forget?" grinned Hermione evidently.

"Well, when we were still in mourning, I heard him talk outside by Fred's grave. He didn't see me but it was almost as if he was talking directly to him. Talked mainly about little things but then he reverberated to you."

Hermione listened in more closely. When the Weasley family were in mourning she tried her best to be close to Ron and support him any way she could. Although this was the first she had ever heard of this story.

"What did he say? Ron I mean."

Ginny looked around to make sure they were the only two in the living room. "He promised he'd take Fred's advice and to never leave your side. He said that Fred was right about Ron loving you when he didn't even realize it. None of us were dense—we all knew it would happen eventually, you two, but Fred…He just knew first. Who would've thought huh?"

Hermione mulled over what Ginny had informed her of. Oftentimes she believed what she and Ron shared was special, unexplainable, but just right somehow. There were days where they'd still row about little things, but it seemed Hermione was just reminded about how lucky she really was.

Small tears had begun to form at the corner of her eyes.

"Oh c'mon Hermione! Don't tell me you're gonna get all emotional now after what I've told you!" said Ginny smiling brightly.

Hermione wiped at the corner of her eyes with a smile before the tears fell. "I know Gin…I just have these periods where I feel so lucky to have him and feel so unsure of myself. And with him always away on missions with Harry I'm always tensed. I know they can take care of themselves but like you said, they go through horrible things. I guess what you just told me is a friendly reminder that I really am mad. Just like him."

"That's why you're made for each other. Believe me, I know that all too well. Being Harry Potter's girlfriend isn't exactly a friendly title either. But everything has turned out fine for the most part. What could possibly make this investigation worse? The return of Voldemort? Un-bloody likely," Ginny said with a laugh. It had been a while before they were able to joke again in that manner.

"I suppose you're right," said Hermione offering Ginny a kind smile. Her nerves might have been on the edge that night but talking to Ginny had definitely settled her down. One last glance at the Weasley clock made her smile knowing both he and Harry were going to be okay.

"Hey you lot! Percy and Audrey are in the kitchen. Mum said food's ready. Let's eat!" exclaimed George from upstairs.

Ginny and Hermione nodded their heads and stood up to head over to the kitchen. Hermione stopped by the window to gaze outside towards the lawn. It went quickly but she believed to have seen a blue light in the distance. She squinted her eyes and frowned looking around outside in the dark.

"I'm sure they'll be fine Hermione. Come. Let's go."

With one last look she closed the curtains and followed Ginny into the kitchen. "I hope you're right Gin."

Hermione looked back once at the window more before entering the kitchen.

"By the way, about that wedding ring...you're barking."


Whitechapel Station – London, England

"Weasley!" shouted an unpleasant looking Gawain Robards at the ginger approaching the scene. Multiple Aurors and a few ministry employees from the forensics team were gathered at the blocked subway station that looked very much like a crime scene formulated by the muggle police.

Harry and Ron had been trained on several approaches to an investigation and one included charting information and prepping for a scene in a similar fashion as muggles. The Auror office oftentimes worked with special branches of muggle authorities, namely on the behalf of The Office of Misinformation and the British Prime Minister for incidents too difficult to explain without magic.

Recently, that appeared to be the case. There were beginning to be more and more instances of having to contact the British Prime Minister for recent events that were occurring. Harry had informed Ron in passing one day that several murders were committed around muggle London in the past month. While the bodies of victims appeared mutilated, there was suspicion on the involvement of magic as well. This made Harry curious because not even Death Eaters operated in that twisted manner. Since they had priorities in special missions involving any remaining dark wizards, the murders committed were investigated by other Aurors in the office. It appeared their cases were to be put on hold until this new mystery was to be solved.

After being contacted for the millionth time, Robards had decided to travel to the scene himself. The director only ever went on a mission or scene if it was truly necessary and based on the paperwork that other Aurors had flooded his office with, he decided to finally take action.

"Ah, so nice of you to join us Weasley. Hurry up, Potter's uncovering the body."

Ron gave a small nod and followed the director down a flight of stairs into the station. "Body, sir? Has another one been murdered?"

Robards didn't say anything. After reaching the bottom, they made their way a few feet deep into the station near a stop where a white sheet was placed over a victim on the floor. Other Aurors were performing charms around the place and a forensics team of wizards began setting up. Harry was kneeled down in front of it and began to uncover the sheet slowly.

"Hey Harry, is this another one?" asked Ron.

Harry looked up at his best friend with a small smile. "Finally here are you? But yes, she's just like the rest of the lot—been spliced up and murdered."

Harry removed the white sheet from the victim lying motionless on the cold hard surface. It was a woman. She appeared to be in her mid-20's with dark hair and lifeless green eyes. There was a long laceration going down from her chest as bloody organs and tissue were protruding out. All three men stared at her empty body with a curious stare.

"It's another woman," proclaimed Robards. "Check her pockets for any identification." Harry did as he was told and picked out a wallet from her left pocket. He pulled out her muggle ID.

"Marie Nicholas."

Ron looked intently at Robards. "You don't suggest it's the same person from the previous victims that did this as well, do you sir?"

"Actually I do." Robards turned from the subject lying on the concrete and motioned for them to follow him. "There's something more that we uncovered." They walked a short distance away to another stop. Robards pointed them down to a wall near the entrance of the tunnel from which the subway train ran through. A large scrawl had been done in white chalk with a symbol of an eye inside a pyramid right below it.

The Watchers at the Gate of Souls shall make the Way.

The Five are red in tooth and claw.

The head, the heart, the hands, the teeth, the eyes

All combine to create the Five

For We Are Many…

Ron scratched the back of his head. "What the hell does all that mean?"

Harry appeared just as perplexed and they both turned towards Robards. "I don't know but look at the last line. For We Are Many. That line was found near the other three female muggle victims. And look down below at that symbol. It looks like an eye inside a pyramid. It was also found near the rest of the victims. What's strange is that we don't believe she died of that slash down her torso. After observing her and the others, we detected traces of a curse similar to the Avada Kedavra. All were mutilated in some horrendous way but these traces of the killing curse indicate that magic was very much involved."

Harry and Ron looked worrisome at one another. The last time they heard of muggles mysteriously disappearing and dying was when Voldemort was still around. But now bodies were chopped up and traces of magic were left behind. No dark wizard ever carried themselves out like that. What could all of this possibly mean?

Ron looked back toward Robards. The fact that there were traces similar to the killing curse made him curious. "I'm sorry sir, but I still don't quite understand. This looks like another muggle murdered her. Do you think they did this just to for torture? And by similar traces of the killing curse—do you mean there's another form of it?"

"I'm not sure Weasley. This is the first I've heard of anything like this. It could be for torture, for some sick pleasure or enjoyment, or even meant as a message. All I know is that we have a sick bastard on the loose and I want him imprisoned in Azkaban to rot."

Harry's gaze shifted down the walkway to the dead body some distance away, now being observed by forensic wizards. The idea of remnants of a new curse with similar effects to the killing curse made him furious. He couldn't piece together why someone was going after innocents. Every time he heard of a case with innocent muggles, witches and wizards dying at the hands of Death Eaters, he couldn't help but think back to the night his parents were killed.

Robards snapped him back to reality. "Listen, I've had to contact the Office of Misinformation more times than I would have liked, but I need this resolved. Immediately. You'd best know that there are also more similar behavioral patterns in other regions of the world."

Harry furrowed his brow. "Sir?"

Robards continued. "Whatever that thing on the wall means, whatever strange behavior that has been going on, whatever sick bastard is doing this—there's evidence connecting to it in the States."

"America you mean?" asked Ron who was looking at his boss as if he grew an extra nose.

"Precisely. International Magical Cooperation has sent down an American Auror whom is also trying to piece together what's been going on. She claims to have four suspects believing to be accomplices to whomever is causing these murders. They're all in America. In fact, she says muggle authorities recently incarcerated three, but are suspicious about their behaviors. I want you two to talk to her and sort this out. Any way possible, is that understood?"

Ron began feeling uncomfortable at the thought of working together with this other Auror. But he seemed to have forgotten one important piece of information. This Auror was a woman. Sensing his thoughts, Harry shook his head and thought they could handle whatever was at play here.

"Sir, I know there's a lot at stake here but-"

"No buts Potter. That's an order. She's just outside the main gate of the station. I like her smile, and she looks impressively qualified, but not because she's pretty. Go and meet with her now. I want both of your reports tomorrow morning in my office. Goodnight."

As Robards began walking back up the stairs toward the main gate, Ron looked at Harry for answers. "You're not seriously considering talking to this woman are you?"

Harry sighed and began to walk slowly back to the flight of stairs. "We have no choice. Orders are orders."

"Right, brilliant! I'm sure this bird will be just as lovely as the last Auror we were paired up with! Probably will only slow us down. What the bloody hell was Robards thinking about setting us up to work with her? And did you see his cane? Since when does he use one of those?"

"That's not important. Look Ron, it may not even be as bad as the way you make it sound. Think for a sec, Robards mentioned that American muggles had incarcerated three of four suspects believing to be associated with whomever caused this," he motioned to the dead body of the victim. "Let's start by finding out why she thinks they're connected. C'mon."

Ron groaned but followed Harry up the flight of stairs as another forensic team had developed onto the scene of the dead body. Looking back at it, Ron felt a strong feeling for the family of that victim. He knew what was expected to come next for that family and hoped it would leave just as quickly.

Harry shook him out of his thoughts. "Ron…by the way, how are things with Hermione? This morning you looked as if Viktor Krum swept her off her feet on his broomstick."

Ron scowled at Harry but continued up the stairs. "Shut it Potter. But no, we're fine. We had another row about something stupid earlier but we made up. Talked it out for a bit and we're much better now. She should be at mum's actually as we speak. I hope we can make it back in time."

"Somehow I doubt that," Harry replied, with a slight concerned expression on his face. As they reached the top of the stairs, they proceeded to head toward the front gate. The Aurors had conducted a concealment charm to make it seem like the Tube was closed. Very few muggles still walked through the streets but nobody could see what was going on.

"Is that her there," Ron asked, pointing at a woman in different colored robes across the gate. She seemed to have taken notice and began walking toward them.

"Yeah, I think so."

Ron and Harry walked much slower until the American woman had finally reached them. She had short dirty blonde hair and glasses concealing her bright blue eyes. "The famous Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley, I'm glad to finally meet you both. My name is Katie Thorne. I'm an Auror sent by the Department of International Magical Cooperation. Mr. Robards has told me everything about you," she beamed, sticking out her hand to shake their arms.

Ron spoke first with a broad smile. "Oh I certainly hope not." Harry shot him a glare before greeting her. "Nice to meet you Katie. Why don't we get right to it?"

She nodded and began walking back down to where the scrawl had been found. Ron leaned in to Harry's ear as they walked behind her. "I don't like her smile," he whispered.

"Me neither Mr. Weasley," spoke Katie sternly, still facing forward.

Harry elbowed him near the stomach. Ron winced and rubbed the area where he had been hit. "Seriously Ron, get a grip."

Katie turned back around with an annoyed look on her face. "Are you two quite finished?"

Harry and Ron looked at each other with embarrassed looks and could only utter a soft 'yes' to accompany their shy nods. She turned back around and the trio walked until they had reached the scrawl again.

"In the last five years, the Department of Magical Defense of the MACUSA received several owls regarding suspected misuse of magic in regards to murders to several No-Maj victims. Our Magical Law Department launched several investigations that are currently ongoing that may relate to the murder of Ms. Nicholas here. We believe that whomever is causing these murders here in London is also connected with suspects in America. Unfortunately, the main report connecting these killers was stolen about a week ago from one of our stations in New York so I'll just have to explain what I know. Another investigation is currently underway regarding the lost report so any new ones are restricted to authorized personnel only."

At the mention of a stolen report Harry displayed an annoyed and suspicious look to Ron who reciprocated him and squinted his eyes at Katie.

As they reached the white writing on the wall she looked back at the two. "Three men have been apprehended by No-Maj authorities. A fourth is still believed to be at large and the one causing the murders here in London, makes five."

"So what are you saying, Katie?" asked an annoyed Ron who crossed his arms.

"Look at what it says. The head, the heart, the hands, the teeth, the eyes. All combine to create the Five. For We Are Many. It mentions "The Five." At this point there are five serial killers committing these sadistic acts who leave the message, For We Are Many near their victims. This all just can't be coincidence. The murderers incarcerated as well as the one at large have all been committing murders within the last 5 years and like this one, are also suspected in using magic."

Harry finally spoke. "Okay so they've been writing the same phrase as well? But why and they've all used magic? None of this makes any sense. Why would one be causing murders here and four others killing innocents in America? Are they all from the same area?"

Katie shook her head. "That's what we don't know. It's all a mystery. But no, the three that have been incarcerated are in a maximum security prison in Texas, but they all come from different areas—Switzerland, Death Valley, and Miami."

"What about the fourth," asked Ron with a peculiar look to his eyes.

"He's probably the most mysterious. Unlike the rest, this one's got real issues. There's a strong chance he's psychologically challenged. He's from New York."

Ron looked at Harry and then turned back toward the scrawl. He had been dragged away from what he thought would be an amazing night after having reconciled with Hermione. He even had to halt his and Harry's work with Death Eaters to investigate this case. It had been quite perplexing as all the murders committed seemed to connect based on one simple phrase.

Harry felt like there was still more details to uncover. "Have all the murders turned out the same as the one here? And if muggle authorities have incarcerated three suspects, how is it that you know it was them that committed magic? How would they have done it?"

"If you mean, mutilated then no. Each has their own…unique way of killing. One sends videotapes to the police, the crazy one preys their victims in the dark, and another—possibly the orchestrator of all of this, can supposedly make a victim's head explode."

Ron looked like he was going to be sick and Harry was just burning with anger. "Exploding heads? You can't be serious…are there also traces of the killing curse then? Is that the reason your department is investigating these lunatics?"

Katie nodded her head. "We have no record of the actual killing curse but a similar one was undoubtedly conducted. The suspects have admitted to No-Maj police about the brutal murders, but we're keeping a low profile and haven't contacted our special division with No-Maj authorities. They think the vicious ways they were killed are final, but then how is it that we find traces of magic near every victim they've killed? They don't know that they most likely used magic. How would you explain an exploding head to a No-Maj? Paranormal activity? Another thing is that they aren't behaving like wizards. That's the strangest part—they haven't been active in prison. You would think if they were wizards they'd use magic to escape. But either they're planning something or aren't wizards at all…"

Now Ron was looking at her as if she grew an extra nose. "No-Maj? Bloody hell is that? And what do you mean they may not be wizards? Ahhh all of this is giving me a headache!"

Katie shook her head and began to look impatiently at Ron. "Non-magical folk? It's what you know here as a muggle. In America we call someone without magic a No-Maj. Now I don't know what the hell is going on but we've been monitoring their behaviors for the last 5 years. Nothing to report except just last week, a riot broke out in the prison. We believe one of the three killers held captive is involved."

"There's a riot going on right now in that muggle prison?" asked Harry, eyebrows raised. "The fourth killer, the one on the loose, has there been any activity or location on him?"

"Yes. It's currently surrounded by muggle police and their own special police units but they haven't infiltrated the prison yet as there are hostages. And no, we have nothing on him. Let me give you specifics."

Harry and Ron looked at one another and pulled out their magical notepads. Any details relating to the murders in London needed to be recorded and further investigated upon. A quill began to take notes on its own, writing every detail the American Auror was describing.

Katie continued. "The first one is named Victor Batrachian and was captured in 1997. He's the one from Switzerland and is currently on Death Row. He was the first of the five to have the For We Are Many phrase near his victims. The second suspect surrendered to authorities a year before Batrachian in '96. His name is Marco Cruz and killed around the Death Valley area in California. He's also on Death Row. The third asshole, Milton Pike, was found through a tip off from someone named "Legion" and is also awaiting execution at the same prison. We have also identified a prime suspect in Avery Marx, who is still at large, but the For We Are Many phrase has been used around the New York area so we think it's him. That's all we know."

"What about the one committing the murders here in London?" asked Ron.

"I'm surprised your boss didn't inform you. Your intelligence suggests that the one committing the murders here often returns to the scene of the crime. Some 'muggles' as you call them report similarities between him and Jack the Ripper."

If anything Ron had heard that night could stumble his mind even further, it was what he just heard. He turned his head slightly and looked confused at the mention of that name. "Who's Jack the Whipper?"

Harry sighed and turned to look at Ron. "Ripper not Whipper. I know him. I've read about him when I was with the Dursley's. He was a muggle murderer and known for preying on women late at night. No one was able to identify him or knew what happened to him after the murders. He sorta just disappeared. But this was over a hundred years ago."

"Bloody hell…" whispered a spooked Ron. He stayed facing at Katie and started to see a faint shade of red at the edge of her lips. She appeared to have bit her lip and bled. "Hey…umm…your lip," Ron said, gesturing at his own lip.

They both saw her wipe away vigorously at her mouth. "Sorry about that. Guess I bit my lip at thought of Jack the Ripper. But like I said, your intelligence suggests it's someone with an appearance like his. Tall, thin frame, and a thick mustache, looking really old school with early 1900's clothing. That's really all I know. I would have liked to bring the report but well, you know how it is. We also have to find out who stole it. So much strange behavior has been going on."

Harry nodded and tried to take everything in. The only thing he thought could cause something like this was Voldemort, but somehow Harry doubted the dark lord could return a third time. He sensed Ron's "don't even think about it" look and tried to dismiss his thoughts.

Katie addressed them again. "Listen, I only have permission to inform you about the events occurring in America. I wish they would have allowed me a new report, but with the original being stolen this is all the information I can give. If the cases are indeed connected, we might see each other again. Right now, No-Maj authorities have imprisoned the three I just mentioned. No use of magic has been traced in the prison so we haven't interfered, but we are keeping a close watch."

"What do you think about all this?" asked Ron.

Katie looked at him with a peculiar expression. "I think they may be using a different type of magic, maybe something dark. Maybe something we don't know about that's undetectable. I also think they're waiting for something. Whatever lies ahead, we best be ready for it."

She looked at both of them and then back at the white chalk on the wall. "Well, if you don't mind, I'll be leaving back to New York now. My port key will be activated at 2 pm eastern time and it is almost time here. I have to report back to my department. It's been a pleasure." She shook their hands again and began to quickly walk off without a glance back.

Ron did a double take at her and noticed a few drops of blood on the floor. "Harry look," remarked Ron as he pointed to the floor. Harry knelt down and observed the small drops of blood. "You figure she's alright? She seemed a bit…weird if you ask me."

"I'm not sure. She probably bit her lip again."

"What the bloody hell is going on Harry? Don't tell me you think Voldemort is behind all this? What about the Death Eaters? You think they're involved?"

Harry sighed and stood back up to gaze at the group of wizards surrounding the body. "It's difficult to say. Why would wizards feign and act like muggles when they could escape that prison with magic? Something else is at play here. We needed that report to know more about who these five serial killers are. There might be more information about the one who caused Ms. Nicholas' death. We should talk to the others and Robards as well about any potential suspects. We were just assigned to this investigation so we still don't know much."

Ron nodded. "Well, even so, three are already in a muggle prison yeah? Just the one around here and the mental one in New York. But what about that riot that's going on? All of this sounds like big trouble mate."

"I know. For Robards to call us out of Death Eaters and bring us into this means something big is coming. We have to find out what exactly."

"Do you think they'll have us travel again? I swear, Hermione won't let me hear the last of it if we do."

Harry looked sternly at his best friend and then toward the clock in the station. "Ron we better start charting our report and helping out with the scene any way we can. Looks like a long night ahead."

Ron sighed. "I suppose you're right. Let's go."

Chapter Text

August 17, 2000

Ron and Hermione's Flat – England

As the cool air began to billow among the trees and escape into the star-filled night, Hermione had made her way home from the Burrow. During dinner there were painful attempts at small talk, which quickly shifted to their work at the ministry. Hermione talked to Percy about possible ways to transition departments as she was beginning to become interested in taking a position in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. As usual, he rambled on about numerous possible ways noting the importance of small details much to the boredom of Ginny and George. A surprisingly avoidant topic was that of the missing duo. Hermione was grateful for the distraction as the conversation was more of a catch up than anything.

After dinner they all gathered in the living room where the men continued talking about George's plans to the extend the joke shop past Diagon Alley. Molly stayed in the kitchen with Ginny who lent a helping hand to her mother with cleaning up.

Hermione had sat again near the fireplace and sparked up a conversation with Audrey. She found she didn't share much common ground with her as she displayed what could possibly be a greater intellect with many interesting topics. Hermione didn't know much about her or really connected with her but learned that she was a Ravenclaw during her time at Hogwarts and appeared to be a similarly female version of Percy. One thing that struck her mind was the fact that she was interning at the Department of Mysteries in the Death Chamber although that was the all she could disclose.

After plentiful talks with one another and enjoying the company with drinks of Firewhisky, the night began to drag on and Hermione felt it was time to leave. Everyone was motioning for her to stay since she had the weekend off, but she insisted and even used her parents as an excuse to leave.

"I have to visit my parents in the morning," she said which made Ginny give up trying to convince her to stay. She hugged the family members once more before leaving and bade them goodnight. Just as she was about to leave, Mrs. Weasley fixed her a tray full of food to take for Ron. Hermione smiled and thanked her and with a wave of her hand, she left out the front door.

Stepping outside, Hermione walked a good distance away before apparating to the door of her flat. She was thankful that the tray of food hadn't been spilled over and took out her wand to unlock the door. "Alohamora." There was a clicking sound and she turned the knob to head inside. "Lumos." Upon entering her home, she noticed that Ron was still away which wasn't surprising to her and quickly went to set the food down on the table. With another flick of her wand the lights clicked on. She moved to the bedroom and changed into her pajamas and picked out a warm blanket from the closet. After brushing her teeth, she went back to the living room and snuggled up with the blanket on a comfy chair placed beside a window.

She gazed up at the night sky and continued to stare at the stars for what seemed like an eternity. She moved her head sideways to get a quick glance at the clock, which read 11:13 pm. It had been over 4 hours since Ron had barged into her office earlier that day and made herself forgive him. She sighed at the persisting thoughts that flowed through her mind.

Every time Ron was away on a mission, she liked to snuggle up in her favorite armchair and read a nice dusty old book to keep her mind off him, always to no avail. That night she felt too tired to read and instead opted for waiting comfortably beside the window, losing herself in her own thoughts.

The window offered a gorgeous view of the sky in the early mornings, but she felt there was something uncharacteristic about the night that soothed her feelings. She found comfort in the thought of him coming home after a long day at work and cuddling up beside him. She smiled at the thought of his embrace around her petite frame. Earlier she might have felt a sense of guilt and pain over their row, but knowing things were much better between them, she needed his touch.

As she waited patiently by the window, she gazed upon each star admiring the beauty in them. They always astonished Hermione, even as a little girl. She may not have been interested in the Divination aspect but hearing stories from Greek Mythology always caught her attention. Her mother used to read her stories about the Gods descending from the heavens to keep the world in order. Hermione would fuzz about how she wanted to travel out into their world to many smiles from her mother. Mrs. Granger would claim that living below the heavens offered a gorgeous view of the sky and was oftentimes misunderstood or taken for granted. Events going on down here influenced what went on up there. Of course she had forgotten all about peaceful living with her status and what her newfound fame had brought her.

Hermione was constantly busy with her hectic schedule and usually always managed to miss appreciating the little things. Perhaps maybe this is why Ron was so care-free. When she had read Walden by Henry David Thoreau, she remembered reading the appreciation for small details. She remembered Thoreau stating one was never really living if he or she never took time to admire the nature around them. It seemed she finally understood what her mother had meant after spending many moments appreciating the star filled night.

Minutes soon came and went and before she knew it, she had fallen asleep on the chair covered up with her warm blanket. Outside she failed to notice the man watching her with his bright aqua glowing eyes. The same shade of blue light she had perceived to have seen outside the Burrow before leaving for the kitchen.

The man walked closer to the window and took a peek around inside. "Hmm…nice place to settle down. For a pair of celebrities, I expected a bit more," spoke the man in a raspy tone. His head turned to a sharp noise of apparition by the front gate and quickly hid to avoid being seen.

Ron made his way to the front door and checked to see if the doorknob was open. He turned it carefully and smiled since that meant that Hermione must have been home. He entered slowly and proceeded inside his flat with a weary look in his eyes. The amount of effort needed to put on an investigation report and occasional lack of sleep often took a toll on Ron. He hated the paperwork that came with the job, but Harry had insisted it wasn't so bad because it meant that dark wizards were in fact put on check.

With sleepy eyes he looked around the dimly lit living room and found his girlfriend sleeping softly on her favorite armchair.

"Of course…like always she's there," he said with a small smile. He walked over to her and planted a kiss on her forehead. Her eyes slowly fluttered open.

"…Ron?"

"Yeah it's me sleepyhead. Here lemme take you to the bed. It's late."

He picked her off the chair bridal style and Hermione's eyes closed again slowly. The physical demands of an Auror made it all too easy to carry her petite frame and while she resented being picked up, she oftentimes liked it.

"I can walk myself…Ronald," she said drowsily.

Ron grinned and shook his head. "Yeah…right."

He reached the bedroom and set her down carefully on their bed. He removed the covers beginning from the other side and placed them over her. She moved onto her left side facing towards him near the edge of the bed and hugged a pillow, falling sound asleep.

"Guess she had a blast at the Burrow."

Ron stared at Hermione for a few seconds, taking pleasure in looking at the beautiful mess that laid peacefully on their bed. He kissed her once more on the forehead and exited the room. He turned on the light in the kitchen and was welcomed with a sight that made him smile brightly. He noticed the tray of food on the table and began to scavenge as if looking for some rare treasure.

"Bloody hell, mum's pies! I guess I reckon I didn't miss too much," he beamed as he devoured a mouthful.

He got another handful of Mrs. Weasley's pastries and went to take a seat on the chair where Hermione was sitting beside the window. Like her, he gazed out the window and up at the stars, admiring the night sky.

Before he could take a bite of his pastry he heard a loud rustling sound outside. His eyes shifted from the stars to the bushes beside the small walkway on the side of the flat. He also turned to look ahead to the empty street. Nothing but silence was heard.

He shrugged and began to chow down on his pie when he heard the sound again, albeit louder this time. He stood to get a better view of the small area behind the flat.

"Bloody hell is that?"

He placed the pies back down onto a small table at the center of the living room and made his way to the bedroom. Hermione remained in the same position, still sound asleep. He cast a quick Muffliato in case the sound became louder for whatever reason.

He left the room and proceeded to head outside through the sliding doors in the kitchen. Upon exiting, a light lit up the small area and Ron noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Just a few bushes and several flowers Hermione had planted to decorate the small area were there. He walked around the perimeter and looked for any indication of the rustling sound. His training had made his hearing much more sensitive and his tracking skills made him able to pinpoint any given clues. Except there weren't any.

After looking for a few minutes and finding nothing he merely shrugged and headed back to the half-open sliding doors. Before he could walk back in, the sliding doors closed shut on their own.

The air had suddenly become thin and an eerie silence took over, screaming at his ears. The small light illuminating the area kept going on and off and Ron's heart beat increased. Sensing another presence behind him, Ron quickly drew his wand and swung around, ready to curse who or whatever was intruding.

"Ronald Weasley…we finally meet," spoke a heavy raspy voice.

Ron's wand was pointed at a tall muscular figure. He was a bald headed man with dark ebony skin that appeared shirtless. An astonishing feature was the strange bright glowing mask implanted on his chest. His eyes were radiant and matched the shade of aqua blue on his chest and Ron's breathing grew heavier.

"Who are you? There's no way you could have broken through the wards…"

"I can do much more than that Ron. Oh yeah, I know all about you Ron. What you did, what you do, what you're about to do, and even who you do," the man said sternly, showing no emotion.

"Shut up! Who the bloody hell are you!? Tell me before I hex you into oblivion!"

Ron tightened the grip on his wand and was ready to curse the man, but curiosity got the best of him. He wanted to know how the man was able to invade his home. His thoughts went to Hermione's safety and eased slowly back toward the sliding doors.

"You might want to lower that stick down. It's crucial we don't wake your little girlfriend. We have a lot to talk about Ron, more than your little mind can take."

Ron's hand started to shake and sweat began to escape out his pores despite the cold wind that had suddenly picked up. He even thought it insane of the man to be shirtless at this time, but he didn't care. He demanded answers. The dark skinned man had no wand or sign of weapon, yet had just broken into their protective enchantments like nothing.

Ron's face grew serious and he spoke in an earnest tone. "I'm warning you. How did you break the enchantments? Why are you here? Tell me who the fuck you are…now."

The man with the glowing aqua eyes began to pace slowly around the small area, his gaze still looking at Ron. Ron did the same.

"I'm no threat to you. You're asking how I broke in here and why. I can understand that. But I need you to come with me. I'll tell you everything you need to know. We can either do this here or somewhere else," he said with a blunt tone.

"What the fuck are you on about!?"

Ron studied him carefully. The man's voice was very deep and raspy but there was something charismatic behind it too. The only piece of clothing the man wore were some jeans and some funny looking shoes that were ancient. Auror training had also prepared him to anticipate sudden moves based on body language and eye movement but with the man's eyes glowing, it was impossible to tell what he planned.

Then his eyes fell to the artifact protruding from the man's chest. It was undoubtedly a mask but Ron didn't know why it was there and glowing. It only had the appearance from the eyes down to its pointy nose. On each side it looked like bones were holding it in place through the man's skin and ribs. The glow made the outline of the mask look a bit like the caped crusader's, but Ron dismissed the thought to look back at his eyes.

"I can't believe my ears, a lot of hostility. Tell me, do you always treat your guests this way?" said the man jokingly.

"I've heard enough! Petrificus Totalus!" shouted Ron swinging his wand at the intruder.

The man quickly tapped the glowing mask on his chest before the curse hit. It rebounded rapidly back at Ron hitting him firmly on his chest paralyzing any movement as he fell over on his back. The rebounded curse seemed much weaker as Ron was still able to move his head and talk, but not the rest of his body.

"What the! Stupid git, just wait!"

"Wait for what? And you call yourself an Auror. I was right. Nettie must be out of her mind to have me bring you to her."

The man walked over to him and picked up the wand that had fell a few feet away. He looked at it carefully, studying the design with such curiosity.

"Nice wand. It's too bad you won't get this back anytime soon."

Ron was jerking his head around trying and willing himself to break free from the curse to no such luck. The man went over to Ron's legs and began dragging him away from the sliding doors.

"Stop you bloody tosser!"

"I swear you brits need a serious lesson in talking shit. Scream all you want. You cast that silencing spell in the room of your little girlfriend and the enchantments out here are still up. I didn't break them. I walked right through. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll visit Ms. Granger," the man said with a wicked smile.

"No! Don't you fucking dare!" warned Ron with a desperate voice.

The man ignored him and slid open the sliding doors and entered their flat.

"Hermione! Hermione! No! HERMIONE!"

The man closed the doors and turned on the light in the kitchen looking curiously around the place. He noticed the moving photos of Ron and Hermione as well as other ones from their time at Hogwarts.

He moved to the living room where even more pictures lay as well as a large furniture piece full of books. He noticed the tray of pastries on the table by the comfy chair and took one as he peered out the window.

"Mmm…not bad. And look at the view, shit," uttered the intruding man at the incredible view the window had offered.

He continued looking out the window onto the street until Ron's screams started to annoy him. Finishing the pastry, he headed into the bedroom. Hermione still laid sleeping but had finally faced the other wall with the blankets kicked off. The man studied her for a quick moment and looked around the room. At the corner stood a desk that caught his attention. He walked over and picked up a still photo of Hermione and her parents. He studied it for a bit and placed it down before picking up another.

This one was a moving photo of Fred and Ron during the wedding of Bill and Fleur. As the man continued staring at the photo he began to think about his own family. "Luke…" He quickly shook away those thoughts and set the photo face down. He turned back to look at Hermione, his bright glowing eyes lighting up the darkness in the room.

"You're in trouble Hermione Granger. I don't know what you have to do with the prophecy but there's something Nettie isn't telling me that concerns you. You have a part in this too but I'm not sure what. This will be something like you've never faced before. Demons and murderers I can handle. But this end of the world bullshit she keeps talking about, can you? We'll see. I know your sorry excuse for a boyfriend will come help. I'm not sure about Potter but he'll be another I can trust. We'll formally meet when the time is right."

The man moved onto the window and peered out to look at the view. "Not as good as the other one," he said softly. With one final look at her he walked outside the bedroom and turned off the kitchen light. Upon exiting through the sliding doors he could still hear Ron shouting for Hermione's name.

"Hermi-What the hell have you done!? You better not have hurt her you fucking prat! You're gonna pay for this believe me!"

The man squinted his eyes and walked towards Ron slowly with his head tilted to the side as if looking intently at his soul. He kneeled down in front of him and grabbed Ron by his Auror robes, bringing him closer to his face.

"Actually, I'm not gonna pay shit. You see, I'm here for you Ron. You have no reason to fear or act hostile toward me. I know this is a bit…unconventional for you but it's for the best."

"What the hell are you on about!? You just assaulted an Auror. And I want to know what you did to Hermione! You're fucking done! You'll be sent away to Azka-"

"Yeah…no. I'm going nowhere. Now I won't ask you again. Are you gonna shut up and listen? Because if you don't…there are others that just might get into a little accident."

"Don't you fucking dare!" screamed Ron, continuing to try and pull himself away from the man's grip and escape.

"Then will you just listen for a sec you stupid ginger headed fuck!?" shouted the man in a deadly tone. Ron was taken aback and felt timid gazing into the man's glowing eyes. His breathing intensified more than ever.

"You're wondering who I am and why I have this," he pointed toward his chest. "I'm no wizard, but I'm no average joe either. A normal person. At least, not anymore. You see, I was once a regular individual going on with my business just like the next guy. One day my life completely changed and well, now I'm here."

Ron didn't say a word but remained displaying a fierce gaze at him.

"By day you may see me the same except without the glowing blue eyes and chest. My name is Michael LeRoi. By night you'll see me as I am right now, the Shadow Man."

"Shadow Man? What, is that your fucking superhero name!?" Ron said sarcastically.

The man let go of Ron's robes and stood up to look again at the stars. Ron did the same and noticed a shooting star in the distance. Then another. And a few more after that. Ron blinked rapidly and moved his stare to the man's backside.

"I'm an ancient protector of this world. I am enslaved to do so. I told you I'm not a wizard. But I was able to gain my shadow powers thanks to this thing here," again he pointed at his chest. "My power goes beyond your most powerful witch or wizard. While I may seem vulnerable without a stick, I can be quite formidable," the man spoke looking back down to Ron.

"Listen. I can care less about the how the fuck you came to be. I want to know what you're doing here. Who put you up to this? Why are you here?"

"Well I'm here for you of course," he said with another wicked smile.

"What do you mean?"

"If I tell you now you'd laugh your ass off so hard, it would wake up your little girlfriend, even through that pitiful silencing charm. I just want you to know something. The murders being committed here aren't by coincidence. There's something big going on. Something your tiny brain can't even begin to comprehend. I need you to come with me to put a stop to this. Except now's not the time. I hope I don't regret saying this, but I'm gonna need your help. You have a part in what's coming. I'll leave you be for now, but I will return."

Ron couldn't believe what the man was saying. He was beginning to think it was him that was going around each night murdering innocent muggles. His worse thought imaginable was that he went to do the same with Hermione, but now he wanted Ron to join him to stop the murders?

"Hold on! What do you mean the murders aren't by coincidence? What's going on? Is it Voldemort? Why do you need me to come with and is Hermione safe?"

"I didn't do anything to your little girlfriend. And Voldemort? You've got to be kidding. That pathetic attempt at a dark wizard is child's play compared to what's coming. You have no idea. But now's not the time to tell." With that statement, Mike's voice sounded full of doubt and hesitation.

"For fuck's sake! Tell me!" shouted Ron again, feeling frustrated from everything the man was saying.

"It looks like I've overstayed my welcome. But don't you worry. I'll be back."

"Wait! How can I trust any of the bullshit you just said? I know nothing about you aside from your stage name. How do I know everything you just said isn't all a lie? You come here, enter my home, curse me and then want help cleaning up some murders with you!? Are you fucking mad!? For all I know, you can be the one committing the murders or perhaps be associated with the Death Eaters!"

Mike had enough. A rustling wind had picked up and his aqua glowing eyes lit up even more with rage. He quickly strolled over to Ron and picked him up by his robes with one hand unveiling his strength. "Do I look like a fucking Death Eater you imbecile!? Huh! Do I!?"

He threw Ron across the small area with great force which made him land hard and hit his head. "Here's my Death Eater membership card you asshole. Fucking take it." Mike threw what appeared to be a small portfolio containing several folders of papers and photographs which landed near Ron's head.

Ron tried to turn his head through the throbbing pain in his head to look at what Mike had just thrown. "And what's this?" he said, grimacing at the pain.

"Read it. All of it. Study it. Share it with Potter if you'd like but only between you two. Believe me, if you even consider taking this to anyone else, you're dead. And not by my hand," warned Mike.

"Fuck's that supposed to mean?"

"I'll see you soon. Oh and mention nothing of this to your little girlfriend either. She's a part of this as well and it's crucial she doesn't find out. I'll know if you do. If she knows anything about this investigation or what I mentioned to you, she'll be sorry. She's a part of the prophecy now."

Ron stopped moving his head to the side and slowly turned to face Mike again. He mentioned prophecy and Hermione. "Prophecy? No…what does that mean? Don't you even think about threatening her!"

"I'm not you sonofabitch! I'm trying to save her. I'm trying to save everyone! I told you I'm an ancient protector of this world. Everything sounds crazy because you're a simple minded jerkoff already pissing in your frilly little panties. Read the fucking folder! There's more at stake than you know."

Ron was stunned and remained quiet, keeping still thanks to the body binding curse. At that moment he felt hopeless, angry, frustrated, tired, and impatient with the situation at hand.

"Mention nothing. Nobody must know. Only speak to Potter. You'll just have to trust me—as much as it pains you. Oh and the next time you try to curse someone, do it with confidence. Otherwise, it'll get you killed. That curse should wear off any minute now. Here's your pathetic stick." Mike threw it at Ron's side. "I'll see you soon."

With that he began walking alongside the pathway that lead to the front of the flat. Ron squirmed more and began shouting his name to come back. He kept struggling for another minute as the body binding curse finally wore off. Ron quickly picked up his wand and dashed for the entrance. He jumped quickly over the main gate and looked to both sides of the empty street.

"Homenum Revelio!" Nothing happened.

"Fucking shit, I have to warn Harry," he said feeling exasperated.

He remembered about the portfolio and quickly ran back toward the backyard. Before picking it up he cast more protective enchantments and wards to seal the flat. When he was done he headed over to the portfolio and picked it up.

"Serial Killer Reports? This can't be…blimey…"

He slid the doors open and went inside the kitchen, leaving the portfolio on the table. He rushed into the bedroom quickly to check on Hermione to assess any damage, but she remained sleeping softly. Ron breathed a sigh of relief as he went over to kiss her again, this time on her cheek. At his touch, she snuggled up closer to her pillow and hugged it even more.

He smiled, but quickly remembered about the portfolio on the table. In that moment he thought about waking her up to stay at the Burrow for the night until he figured out a plan, but thought better of it. Ron was in no position to trust the man, yet a small part of him thought Mike wasn't a threat. He brought no harm to them. It was almost as if he was trying to warn Ron. But of what? He decided to head back into the kitchen table and think about a next course of action.

After taking another pastry into his mouth, he cleared the table from the tray of food and other materials and opened the portfolio. Inside it were five distinct small folders each containing police investigation reports and several photos of miscellaneous things. As he scanned through the files quickly, his face grew in horror at what he saw. With each turning page, the word "murder" kept coming up along with pictures displaying five serial killers with evil smiles on their mugshots.

"Bloody hell…this is it. It's the missing report that Katie was talking about. It was him that took it, but why…why give it to me?" he said looking bemused.

Ron felt more confused than ever but his eagerness took over as he moved his eyes back and forth reading hastily at each report. He couldn't contain his breathing and excitement and suddenly forgot everything about Mike. His focus stayed on the reports and even the thought of waking Hermione to leave to the burrow dissipated. His heart began to race as he panicked after reading the horrendous detail of each killer.

He spread them around different parts of the table and began examining every small detail.


SERIAL KILLER REPORTS

August 2000

Wherever possible includes Background, Criminal Profile, Sightings and Prime Suspect for each of the following:

Report # 1 "LIZARD KING" (Dr. Victor Batrachian)

Report # 2 "REPO MAN" (Marco Cruz)

Report # 3 "VIDEO NASTY KILLER" (Milton Pike)

Report # 4 "HOME IMPROVEMENT KILLER" - New York City

Report # 5 "JACK 2" - London, England

THOMAS DEACON P.I.

PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS

1 PRAISE PLAZA. GLEN COVE, NEW YORK 11542

TEL: 555-0101 FAX: 555-0102

Agnetta,

Here is the information you requested regarding the five serial killers—referred to by yourself as The Five. My research has led me into areas I do not normally pursue—no demon spoor (Asmodeus) as far as I can see. My sources tell me that each report is as current as it can be. The Batrachian report is particularly up to date, with a news item included that is only a week old.

When studying the information, of particular note is the inclusion of symbols and poems at the crime scenes, along with the phrase "For we are many", (taken, I believe, from the Bible— Mark, Chapter 5, Verse 9). Are these guys in cahoots, or is it simply a coincidence? Knowing you as I do, Nettie, I cannot believe it's the latter.

Anyway, hope this stuff proves useful.

Best regards,

Tom

SERIAL KILLER REPORT #1

Name: Doctor Victor Karl Batrachian

(prison photo)

Aliases: Dr. Arthur Falcus, Dr. Gunther Schaden, Dr. Wilhelm Karsh, Dr. Gerhard Muller

DOB: April 8, 1961 Sex: MALE

Height: 6'2 Weight: 198 lbs

Place of Birth: Geneva, Switzerland Hair: Ash Brown

Eyes: Gray Race: White

Scars and Marks: Small scar on left temple

Background:

Born in Geneva, Switzerland, the son of a wealthy Swiss banker. A brilliant student, Batrachian graduated from Cambridge University in 1985 with a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychiatry (Doctoral Thesis: 'Defining ASPD: The Psychopathology of Anti-Social Personality Disorder'). Batrachian spent the following four years at the London Medical School training to become a General Practitioner (MD). Was expelled from the school without completing course (exact detail is unavailable).

Emigrated to US in early 1991, using forged certificates to gain a Green Card. Established medical practice in Boston (1993) using the name 'Dr. Arthur Falcus', in partnership with Dr. Sean McRose. McRose was found dead in suspicious circumstances in 1994. 'Dr. Falcus' subsequently disappeared with several thousands of dollars of the practice's money.

Batrachian resurfaced six months later as 'Dr. Gunther Schaden', with a new medical practice in South Bend, Ohio. Was indicted on five counts of murder following the discovery of an insurance fraud involving five of his patients, all wealthy widows who had willed him their entire fortunes and were subsequently found dead of "natural causes." Batrachian, as their doctor, had signed all five death certificates. Captured by State Police, as he was about to cross the state line into Indiana, Batrachian absconded from the Butler Country Sheriff's Office after killing two deputies and wounding a third. At this point (December, 1995), Batrachian appeared on the FBI's Most Wanted List.

In December '95, a handwritten letter with an Abilene postmark arrived at the office of the Dallas Morning News (see Attachment #1). In it, the writer intimated—somewhat obscurely—that they intended to commit several "bloody sacrifices." The writer of the letter has since been identified as Batrachian.

In January, 1996, the corpse of an unidentified young man was discovered in a derelict boathouse on the shores of Lake Fort Phantom Hill, Texas. Forensic examination showed that the head of the corpse had quite literally exploded—as though from "some great and unnatural internal pressure." A strange symbol (Fig. 1) had been branded on to the left side of the victim's chest.

Over the next year and a half, twelve more murders followed, all with the same modus operandi: "exploded" head; and the left side of the chest branded with symbol.

FBI agents captured Batrachian in August 1997. He was subsequently convicted of fifteen counts of first degree murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. He is currently on death row at Gardelle County Penitentiary, awaiting the result of his second appeal and achieving a certain notoriety in artistic circles with what he calls his "Asylum Installations" (Fig. 2) and his "Schismata" paintings for several thousand dollars.

(Fig. 1 shows picture of symbol looking like a small stick figured lizard)

(Fig. 2 shows picture of man in chair)

Indeed, London's Golgotha art gallery recently bought one of these "Schismata" paintings for several thousand dollars.

Attachment #1

Letter to Dallas Morning News (handwriting identified as belonging to Batrachian):

Dear Sir,

I have brought HIS Kingdom to Earth and a bloody cleansing is nigh. Indeed, it is well overdue. I am the Leader of the FIVE—the Watchers of the GATE OF SOULS. We shall Make the Way for the coming of HIS GLORIOUS ARMY and as a fanfare—we demand several sacrifices. Blood Sacrifices for HIS pleasure. So be aware then, that the road to your GOLGOTHA shall be slippery with your BLOOD. FOR WE ARE MANY

I remain, as ever, disrespectfully yours,

The Lizard King

Attachment #2

UPDATE—News story from the front page of Clearford Chronicles, dated one week ago.

MASS-KILLER MASTERMINDS PRISON SIEGE

Mass-killer Doctor Victor Batrachian is the mastermind behind the three-day-old siege at Gardelle County Penitentiary.

Batrachian, who has been on death row for the past three years, convicted in 1997 for the murder of fifteen people, has become something of a celebrity in artistic circles with his "Schismata" paintings. And what he calls his "Asylum Installations." Details are sketchy, but it appears that last Thursday evening, Batrachian was momentarily left alone in the prison's Art Studio. When the guards returned, he was nowhere to be found. After killing four guards, Batrachian managed to override the security system in the maximum-security wing, releasing over three hundred prisoners from their cells. The condition of the twenty-five hostages taken by the prisoners is unknown. Gardelle Penitentiary is currently surrounded by 150 National Guardsmen and several elite SWAT teams are on stand-by, but as of yet, they have not been given the order to go in.

Attachment #3

Poem found at crime scene (clutched in hand of unidentified victim):

The Lizard King shall lead the Five—

From out of the southern gaol shall cut his

bloody swathe.

True hate shall find a way—in Him the

darkness stands revealed,

His eyes as void as a dead man's gaze,

As cold as the light from a dying star.

For we are many...

SERIAL KILLER REPORT #2

Name: Marco Roberto Cruz

(prison photo)

Aliases: Roberto Cirilla, Brian Jellet, Jesus Moretta, Max Clayton, Solomon 'Solly' Fripp

DOB: March 13, 1968 Sex: MALE

Height: 5'10 Weight: 168 lbs

Place of Birth: Boulder City, Nevada Hair: Dark Brown

Eyes: Light Brown Race: White

Scars and Marks: Heavily tattooed on upper body. Scar on left cheek; words "LOVER BOY" tattooed on knuckles of both hands

Background:

From February to November, 1996, Marco Roberto Cruz kidnapped and murdered ten people, preying on couples mainly in and around Death Valley and the Mojave Desert. The following symbol was found near each victim (Fig. 1).

(Fig.1 shows picture of symbol of what appears to be a lightning bolt)

The following poem was also found near each of the victims:

For in the western deserts He finds a form—

He is the Child with the Mouth of Blood,

The bleakness before the Beginning of Time,

He is the glint of ice in a murderer's eye,

The savage heart of every crime.

For we are many...

Ironically, Cruz actually worked as a Repo Man for five years. He also worked as a deejay and had an auto shop business at one time. Served seven years for armed robbery and aggravated assault. No previous convictions for homicide but was implicated in several killings, with lack of evidence to convict.

On October 14, 1996, Cruz gave himself up to Marshals in Austin, Texas—the bodies of his last victims still hidden beneath a tarpaulin in back of his pick-up. He was indicted on ten counts of first degree murder and is currently incarcerated at Gardelle Jail Penitentiary, awaiting execution.

It is not known whether he is among the inmates involved in the riot at the jail.

SERIAL KILLER REPORT #3

Name: Milton T. Pike

(prison photo)

Aliases: Bobby McArdle, Bobby McNab, Billy-Joe Balboa, Franklin P Tyndall, Rocky Mason, Shalimar Waters

DOB: July 4, 1952 Sex: MALE

Height: 6'1 Weight: 240 lbs

Place of Birth: Miami, Florida Hair: Black (bald)

Eyes: Brown Race: White

Scars and Marks: Flaming skull tattoo with inscription "Born to Raise Hell" on left side of his chest; scars on upper lip and chin.

Background:

Vietnam Veteran (1971-73), Green Beret, Special Forces electronic countermeasures expert. Dishonorably discharged in '72 following alleged assault on another officer. Upon discharge worked as a TV repairman (1974-80). Indicted in the shooting of his mother in 1975, but was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

Joined "American Knights of the Cross" (survivalist/militia group) in 1980; 1981 formed own breakaway/splinter group "Knights of the American Heartland" (KAH), with fortified compound located near Eureka, Florida (the identifying symbol of the KAH is remarkably similar to the "crossed spears" symbol—see Attachment #1C—found on stickers affixed to the videotapes sent by the "Video Nasty" offender to various State Police officials). KAH incorporated into national militia organization in 1982 with subsequent expulsion later that year following Pike's murder of eighteen of his own militiamen with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Returned briefly to TV repair business (1982-84) and during this time the FBI discovered that he subscribed to every known electronics-based periodical and magazine. Became Forest Ranger in 1986 under assumed name (Franklin P. Tyndall), working in Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades with a specialty in alligator preservation.

In 1991 was arrested following the murder of a hiker in the Cypress National Preserve. Escaped from custody, killing two Sheriff's deputies in the process. Pike's whereabouts unknown from 1991 to 1995.

From December 1995 to September 1996, Pike murdered nine women, disposing of their bodies in numerous locations.

Date Name Age Disposal Site

12/02/95 Barbi Meade 35 Plymouth, Florida

12/19/95 Unidentified 37 Moor Haven, Florida

02/15/96 Simone Phelps 35 St Paul, South Carolina

05/17/96 Nicola Patrick 36 Red Hill, Alabama

06/03/96 Gina Jason 33 Cherokee, Georgia

06/20/96 Tori Storey 34 New London, Alabama

08/30/96 Glenda Cooke 40 Eloise, Florida

09/08/96 Unidentified 32 Arkabutia, Mississippi

09/29/96 Billie Allison 38 Sebastapol, Texas

Pike was known by the sobriquet "Video Nasty Killer" due to the fact that State Police in all of the states mentioned above were the unfortunate recipients of videotapes showing, in horrific detail, the hunting down and subsequent slaughter of at least six of the above victims.

The following poem was found nearby each of the victims:

And lo, if War should have a face,

This one of Five would show the bleeding mask:

Ears pricked to savor every scream,

Teeth bared to strip the carcass wet,

And tongues to lap the vessels dry.

For we are many...

Pike was captured by FBI agents in October '96, following a series of anonymous tip-offs (the caller gave his code-name as "Legion"). Three agents were killed and five wounded in the furious gun-battle that followed. Pike, severely wounded himself, eventually passed out due to blood-loss and was taken to the Dallas Memorial Hospital, where he remained in a critical condition for several days. Following his recovery, he was tried and convicted on eleven counts of first degree murder (one of the FBI agents had subsequently died of his wounds) and is currently incarcerated at Gardelle Penitentiary awaiting execution.

As with the previously mentioned offender and fellow death row inmate, Marco Robert Cruz, it is not known whether Pike is among the prisoners involved in the riot at Gardelle.

Attachment #1C

(shows photograph of "crossed spears" symbol affixed to videotape sent to State Police)

SERIAL KILLER REPORT #4

CRIMINAL PROFILE OF SERIAL OFFENDER KNOWN AS THE

"HOME IMPROVEMENT KILLER"

(shows artist's impression)

Background:

It is estimated that the offender known as the "Home Improvement Killer" has so far murdered twelve people of both sexes, over a period of two years, in and around the New York area.

A peculiar facet of this offender's signature behavior is that he leaves behind the skull of a baby canary. Hidden inside the skull is a piece of rolled up paper, torn from a notebook. Written neatly on the paper in blank ink is a poem (Attachment #2A), beneath which is drawn an arcane symbol (Fig. 1).

Profile:

A reclusive individual, white male in his late twenties, of low intelligence with a background in carpentry. Introverted personality. Has a strong misogynist tendency, with particular emphasis on mother-resentment verging on psychosis. Disorganized in his personal life, yet highly organized insofar as his modus operandi for each killing is concerned—all of which seem to have taken place at night.

Sightings:

Suspect possibly seen leaving the scene of the crime (westbound along Braddock Avenue) in the early hours of August 30, 1999.

Description given:

White Male, 25-30 years of age

5'8 – 6'0 tall Weight 150 lbs

Dark brown hair, pale complexion, possibly wearing night-vision goggles.

Prime Suspect:

Name: Avery Marx

Aliases: Mark Aviary, Alan Hickox

DOB: January 18, 1973 Sex: Male

Height: 5'9 Weight: 155 lbs

Place of Birth: New York Hair: Dark Brown

Eyes: Brown Race: White

Scars and Marks: None

Additional Background:

Indicted in 1997 for attack on a young woman in Greenwich Village, disappeared while on bail (paid for by mother). Also wanted for subsequent murder of Mrs. Cassie Marx (his widowed mother), February, 1998; victim found in darkened bedroom (offender had apparently switched off the power in her apartment house). Known to keep birds. Present whereabouts unknown.

Attachment #1A

(photo showing "skin-made" furniture)

Attachment #2A

Poem found at crime scene (rolled up nearly inside skull of a baby canary):

From the east the idiot monster cometh,

With nails to announce the blasphemous intent.

In still dark chambers it awaits the Shadow—

Ebon body, scars of power—

Dark Messiah with a hideous strength.

For We Are Many...

Fig. 1 shows photo of symbol of what looks similar to the outline of a nail

SERIAL KILLER REPORT #5

CRIMINAL PROFILE OF SERIAL OFFENDER KNOWN AS

"JACK II"

(shows artist's impression)

Background:

This offender, known as "Jack II" (for reasons that will become evident later in this report), preys solely on women, striking late at night/in the early hours of the morning, on or near London Underground stations in the East End of London.

The offender has so far murdered four women.

July 20, 2000 Anna Chaplin Shoreditch Station

August 1, 2000 Eliza Strider Aldgate East Station, Katrina Eddison Aldgate Station

August 17, 2000 Marie Nicholas Whitechapel Station

When compared against the five murders perpetrated in London between August 31 and November 9, 1888, by the offender known as "Jack the Ripper", we can see some striking similarities.

July 22, 1888 Annie Chapman 29 Manbury Street

August 3, 1888 Elizabeth Stride Berner Street, Catherine Eddowes Church Passage

August 19, 1888 Marie Anne Nichols Bucks Row

November 9, 1888 Mary Kelly Millers Court, Dorset Street

As can be seen when comparing the above lists, all the latest victims have very similar names to the original victims and the recent locations, when looked at on the map of London, are very close to the 1888 murder sites.

There are further similarities in that the recent murders by Jack II have almost identical MO's to the 1888 killings.

Profile:

The frenzy of each attack seems to indicate a highly disturbed individual who is sexually and socially inadequate with extreme misogynist tendencies, channeling his anger against women. Post mortem mutilation shows no medical knowledge. Offender is an introverted loner who will pass unnoticed through his chosen killing grounds and as such will definitely return to the scenes of his crimes.

Sightings:

The similarities between this case and the one in 1888 extend to the appearance of the two offenders. Compare the "Artist's Impressions" of this offender at the beginning of this report (based on a description offered by a witness who saw Anna Chaplin, a known prostitute, talking to a man outside Shoreditch Station on the night of July 20), with that of the man in Fig. 2, a contemporary impression of Jack the Ripper:

(Fig. 2 shows picture of Jack the Ripper)

Prime Suspect:

Scotland Yard has no prime suspect at the present.

Attachment #1B

Discovered scrawled in white chalk on a wall near Whitechapel Station on the night of the murder of Marie Nicholas:

The Watchers at the Gate of Souls shall make the Way,

The Five are red in tooth and claw—

The head, the heart, the hands, the teeth, and eyes,

All combine to create the Five.

For We Are Many...

(below poem shows picture of pyramid with eyeball in center)

Attachment #2B

Discovered scrawled in white chalk on a wall near Shoreditch Station on the morning following the murder of Anna Chaplin:

The knife shall curve its bloody ritual,

A sanguinary return to a darker place.

Flesh running cold with the shedding tears—

To shred, to cut, to slice, to know

The weeping wound and its glooming soul.

For We Are Many...

(shows picture of symbol of sword facing down with wide blade)

End of report


Ron stayed sitting on the chair with his arms fallen to each side. He was lost in his own thoughts trying to process everything he had just read. It had been a muggle report that was stolen. More questions came to his mind and he felt like his head was finally going to explode. Ron thought about the things Mike had said about a prophecy and Hermione and needing his help. There was definitely something more at play.

The urge to contact Harry was tempting due to the circumstances, but Ron felt it best to wait until dawn. He decided to sleep through the night and try to wake up with a fresh mind in the morning. It took so much willpower not to inform the other Aurors about what had happened that night, but Ron still thought Mike wasn't a threat. He was also taking the advice of not mentioning a word to anyone besides Harry.

"A Shadow Man? What the hell is a Shadow Man? An ancient protector of this world…bloody hell. But why come to me? I'm part of this…prophecy. What prophecy?"

He heard footsteps go into the other room and stood quickly with his wand out. He realized Hermione must have gone to the loo and with a swish of his wand, packed everything into place and hid the portfolio under the couch.

Sitting back down, he realized that Hermione would walk into the kitchen. His mind couldn't stop wandering to the part where Mike had mentioned she was now a part of this too. Some kind of new prophecy was at play that involved five sick serial killers and him and Hermione. Harry hadn't been mentioned but Ron recalled that Mike was able to trust him. Everything would be cleared up in the morning. Everything that Katie had told them up until now.

Mike's sudden presence had an effect on him. All he could focus on now was keeping Hermione safe, but was warned against telling her anything. That was going to be the most difficult part. Hermione was able to find out anything. He had to be absolutely certain she didn't find out. At least until Mike returned. There was still so much to process and Ron thought it best to just formulate a plan with Harry in the morning.

Ron jumped at the touch of Hermione's embrace behind his back.

"What's wrong? You jumped like a cat thrown into a cold bath," she spoke laughing. She planted a lazy kiss on his cheek and ruffled his red locks. "Long night?"

"Sorry. Yeah just tired."

Hermione nodded and sat down in the chair opposite of Ron. She looked at him fixedly. He had baggy eyes, disheveled red hair and dirt on his nose. She smiled at the memory of him when they had first met on the Hogwarts Express.

"What?" he said sensing a giggle coming out of her.

"Nothing it's just…you've got dirt on your nose again," she said still beaming and shaking her head at the innocent look on his face.

"Oh," Ron said sheepishly. He felt his ears warming up as he swiped vigorously at his nose trying to clean any dirt. "Thanks."

Hermione continued looking at him with a smile, admiring his amusing self and the aspects of a boy he still retained. She was grateful nothing had happened to him and only wanted to hold him close then and there. Then she finally got a whiff of how bad he smelled.

"Okay, you need a shower. You look rugged and are starting to stink a bit," she said, motioning with her hand like a fan.

Ron merely grinned and nodded. Of all things he could definitely use a shower. "Yeah I'll be right up."

Hermione noticed a faint hint of tension on his face and knew something was off right away. It was probably nothing but felt she needed to know about his night and how it had gone with Harry. He quickly stood up to head to the loo but stopped at the sound of her voice.

"Ron. How did it go? What happened? You look more tense than usual," she spoke in a worried tone.

Ron turned slowly and offered her a small smile. He tried his best to disguise the evidence of learning so much about the investigation he was unable to disclose with her. Hermione was a pro at reading expressions and people. She knew whenever something was off between them and Ron tried his best to avoid her stare.

"Yeah no, I'm fine. Just really tired. Like I said it was just some poor bloke, nothing special."

Hermione nodded and looked down at the table knowing all too well that he was lying. She felt pursuing the topic further would only lead into another row and thought better of it. Tomorrow they didn't have any work and would press him then to open up. Before Ron walked away from the kitchen she called his name again. "Hey, Ron?"

He stopped in his tracks to look back at the bushy haired girl with a concerned expression. His mind was hoping she wouldn't press about the subject. "Yeah?"

"I-I'm glad you're safe," she said offering a genuine smile.

Ron grinned brightly and for a small second he forgot all about what had happened earlier that night. "Of course. Hey I'll be right out, just go to bed and I'll meet you there okay?"

She nodded once more and watched him leave into the loo. She sighed and looked around the kitchen still sensing something wrong with him. The feeling of exhaustion made her yawn and she stood to make her way into the bedroom to wait for him. Upon entering she noticed something oddly different.

She looked onto the corner of their bedroom at the small desk. A picture had been placed faced down. She squinted her eyes and walked towards it to investigate. She picked up the photo and noticed it was the one of Fred and Ron at Bill and Fleur's wedding.

"Hmm…why's this face down? Must have just fell."

She thought nothing of it and placed it back upright and jumped back into the covers. Her eyes started to droop as her sleepiness consumed her. By the time Ron was out of the shower she had already fallen asleep again.

He smiled at her and particularly noticed that the moonlight was shining onto her. It showcased what Ron considered her alluring elegance in her small lady frame. He couldn't keep his smile to himself and felt Hermione was truly the only one who could make him forget about it all.

After quickly changing, brushing his teeth and jumping in the covers beside her, he gazed outside their small window at the moonlight. As he did so she wrapped her arm over him and placed her head on the crook of his shoulder, cuddling him. He used his arm to bring her closer and hugged her tight, still admiring the night sky. The thoughts about the events earlier that night never really left his mind as he tried endlessly to make connections with everything. He noticed a shooting star just like before. Wonder filled his mind as to why he was seeing so many all of a sudden.

Hermione had once told him that muggles considered them good luck and granted one a wish. She had mentioned that many claim the wish comes true if not spoken aloud with anyone. Little things like that made Ron fascinate about muggles just like his father.

"It has to be Mike. The Shadow Man." He sighed, turned to Hermione and kissed her on the forehead.

"Everything will be alright. I'll make sure of it."

The night had been hectic, but what lied ahead was sure to be more than they could ever handle. As he saw another shooting star before falling asleep, he wished that nothing bad ever came across Hermione and hoped to stay with her, in this life, as equals.


August 18, 2000 (3 am)

Undisclosed Location – England

Mike emerged from darkness with a telephone in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He dialed a few numbers and held it up to his ear while puffing his smoke. Someone quickly picked up but no sound was heard aside from heavy breathing.

"Hello, Nettie?"

"Mike? What happened? Did you give him Deacon's file?"

"Yes, but I didn't tell him everything. But he'll come along. Might be a few more days but he'll come."

"Shit. You know every day you waste it's one day closer for Apocalypse! Just get his ass here! And hurry."

"I'm working on it. One other thing. Someone's snooping around. Supposedly the Americans sent an Auror to investigate the serial killer here. You and I both know that's bullshit."

"Hmm…it looks like that ancient evil is already having an influence in Liveside. We don't have any more time to waste Mike. You know what to do."

"Got it."

Chapter Text

August 18, 2000 (7:39 am)

12 Grimmauld Place – London, England

Ron couldn't stop pacing. After arriving at 12 Grimmauld Place to batter Harry about what had happened the night before, he couldn't remain relaxed. Following a brief explanation of the incident and shoving the muggle report in Harry's face, all he could do was wait, which he wasn't keen on at the moment.

Harry must have hounded Ron with hundreds of questions pertaining to the previous night's events and how he was suddenly in possession of perhaps the most sought after document in America. All Ron could say was to open it and read the entire case files. Harry became frustrated for having been woken up so early for a reading session and given Ron many "are you serious" looks.

Harry began reading through the files and observing each attachment when he realized he wasn't going to be allowed to go back to bed. His occasional raise and furrow of the eyebrows made Ron pace even faster with anxiety. He watched as his best friend's eyes scanned along the lines of the descriptions of the five murderers. There were times when Harry's jaw dropped and others where he ran his hand through his hair in disbelief. Ron couldn't bare the eerie silence that filled the kitchen. The house of Black appeared very differently than the time during their horcrux hunt. Kreacher had outdone himself trying to tidy up the place and Ron noticed for the first time that morning that the elf was nowhere to be found.

It seemed Harry had finally finished the last page which was ironically the case file they were most interested in. He saw him blink rapidly trying to take in everything he had read.

"Well, what do you think?" asked an impatient Ron.

Upon waking up he immediately set forth to visit Harry to discuss last night's incident. Nothing else mattered to him, much to the point that he was now ignoring his girlfriend to engage in something unprecedented. Hermione had questioned where he was going so early in the morning but he evaded the question by running out the door before she could ask again. He knew he was in for a talk when he got back but some things were more important at the moment.

He remembered the odd looks she had given him when she woke up late last night. It appeared he was so obvious that he had to be absolutely careful to not let her onto anything that involved his intruder.

Ron also noticed that Ginny was still at the Burrow as she was nowhere in sight when he entered Harry's home. He knew this would be his only time to discuss the files privately with him. A mix of nervousness and excitement fueled Ron the minute he handed Harry the files. He was utterly impatient and couldn't wait any further to discuss the event at hand.

It had been difficult for him to sleep since Mike's warning, as he now thought of it. The event plagued his mind effortlessly. He was no longer angry about the mystery man breaking into his home, but felt rather suspicious and eagerly curious to see what his true motives were. Ron had a gut feeling he wasn't a threat. He provided him with crucial information but was strictly advised not to tell anyone for the sake of someone dying.

That reason alone was enough to bug him all night and make him want to seek answers. Harry was allowed to know, and Ron was planning to question Harry on the matter as well. So many people now knew who they were and what they did to save the wizarding world. He believed Harry possibly knew more about the strange man. After all, being Harry Potter's best friend involved more than just a few benefits. It involved frequent new dangers as well.

"Where did you get this?" asked a shaken and wide-eyed Harry. He continued skimming through the documents and lined up the mugshot pictures of all five of the murderers.

Ron finally stopped his pacing and had a small grin on his face. "It's a long story mate like I told you."

Harry looked up from the photos and had a serious face. Ron had seen that face on so many occasions during their time at Hogwarts. When they joined the Auror Department, it became more evident. This time, however, he looked like he meant business and Ron didn't take this lightly.

"Ron where did you get this?" asked Harry once more with a higher tone.

Ron looked taken aback but recovered quickly. He slowly sat down on one of the chairs of the kitchen table. Harry did the same. He took a deep breath as he closed his eyes trying to recollect the vivid images of the Shadow Man. "Okay, now don't interrupt."

Harry nodded and leaned in closer to hear Ron's story.

"Well I had disapparated back to our flat, right after we finished our report on the Marie Nicholas case. I went inside, took Hermione to bed—"

"Bed? What do you mean you took Hermione to bed?"

Ron paused for a moment. "She fell asleep on a chair in the living room so I picked her up and took her to bed."

Harry remained still with a blank stare on his face. "Oh…right. Carry on."

Ron coughed a bit and continued with his story. "So I headed into the kitchen and saw mum's pies. Hermione must have brought them. And well you know I'm not going to pass on mum's pies so—"

"Ron, just get to the important parts!" barked an irritated looking Harry.

Ron nodded. "Right I'm getting there. So I head into the living room and heard this loud sound. I walk over to the window to look out onto the street and our walkway on the side of the flat."

"Did you see him there?" cut in Harry once more.

"No I…are you gonna let me finish or you gonna keep budding in you prat?"

It took every nerve in Harry's body not to shout back for having been woken up at seven in the morning for a story about desserts and loud noises. He sighed and motioned for Ron to continue. "Sorry, go on."

Ron looked pleased and continued. "So I go out back to investigate and nothing was there. I looked around to see if I could find what made that sound. I thought it was nothing so I went to head back inside but before I could enter the bloody door closes shut on its own. It was then that I knew someone was there. I drew my wand and turned and there he was."

"Who was it? What did he look like?"

Ron scrunched his eyes and tried to vividly remember every detail of the man. "He said his name was Michael LeRoi. Said something about not being a muggle or a wizard, that he was and I quote, an 'ancient protector of this world,'" spoke Ron with an astonished look in his eye.

Harry narrowed his gaze at the red head. "Are you kidding me? Ancient protector of the world? What kind of rubbish is that?"

"I'm not making this up Harry. He was bald and had dark skin. His voice was deep as hell too, but you won't believe what made his arse stand out."

"Did he have wings as well?" asked Harry sarcastically.

Ron stopped a bit too dramatically and lowered his tone for some reason as if knowing someone would overhear what they were saying. "His eyes were glowing blue. I couldn't even see his sockets. And his chest had this weird mask looking thing. It looked stuck on his skin and it was glowing too."

At this Harry stood up and began to pace. He walked over to a window beside the kitchen table and looked outside as he tried hard not to counter Ron's story with hundreds of questions. "Are you serious about all this Ron?" asked Harry, still staring out the window. "I mean; do you even hear yourself?"

Ron rolled his eyes and stood as well. "I told you I'm not making it up! This fucker out of nowhere breaks Hermione's charms, rebounds a curse back to me and walks out like nothing! And you think I'm joking? Bloody hell Harry, he gave me the fucking missing files for crying out loud! And it was a muggle police report not a wizarding one like Katie said. And did you read the last bit? Katie said that the bastard killing innocent muggles looked like some bloke named Jack the Tipper."

"Ripper," cut in Harry.

Ron lifted his arms out and let them fall to his sides. "Whatever. It mentions him in this report. Late 1800's, killed women, ring a bell you git?"

Harry finally turned to look at him. "So now because this Shadow bloke, who broke through your charms, cursed you silly, and gave you the missing report, that he's earned your trust? You don't think that maybe he's not somehow involved?"

"I thought about it, yes, but I think he was telling the truth when he was bad mouthing the mad man. I was angry and wasn't thinking when he attacked. But then why would he give me this?" he motioned to the files scattered on the table.

Harry shook his head and began to pace again as he stared deeply at the files spread around the table. "Look I don't know what's going on but all I'm saying is not to trust that," he mentioned as he pointed at the table.

"Funny. He said he could trust you," said Ron nonchalantly.

Harry stopped in his tracks. "What?"

Ron sat back down again and took the artists impression photo of the supposed serial killer in London. He continued staring at it and noticed Harry's look through the corner of his eyes. "Yeah. He said no one else could know except for you and I."

Harry raised his arms and flung them to his sides in frustration. "Okay now I know this is all bollocks."

Ron rolled his eyes again. "Harry, he mentioned some prophecy. He said the murders committed here are part of something bigger. I'm not sure what it is but if it has anything to do with some prophecy then I know it's bad news. Just look at the last one. He also said if anyone else found out, they'd kill one of us."

"Who?" asked Harry with an intrigued expression.

"Don't know," spoke Ron.

More frustration hit Harry and the only thing he could do was scrunch his eyes and pinch the bridge of his nose to think this logically. "Ron we have to inform Robards. They can help—"

"No!" shouted an exasperated Ron. "He specifically said not to tell anyone. Not even Hermione can know."

Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing. If Ron was being irrational, now was the time to inform his friend about what he really thought about all this. He furrowed his brow in confusion as to why he wouldn't want to tell even Hermione about what happened.

"Why the hell not!? And what do you mean Hermione can't know? I thought she was there with you in the flat?"

Ron appeared more serious than before. "I casted a silencing charm before I went outside. She didn't hear anything and is still clueless about what happened. I know she's gonna ask questions mate, but she can't find out. Trust me, this guy looked dead serious. Hell, even more than you do now."

Harry shook his head once more and walked toward the window again. He noticed the sun was already shining brightly which meant that Ginny was going to arrive soon to drag him to breakfast at the Burrow. He still didn't understand what Ron meant by the man being able to trust him.

Ron continued. "It even has information on the murders going on around here—information that was taken yesterday, meaning he was around the scene at the time. It all connects with what Katie was saying."

Despite the lack of trust and faith Harry had on the muggle police report, even he had to admit it was strange that yesterday's events were already recorded. Someone had to be at the scene but others would have surely taken notice. The Aurors that surrounded the murder scene during their investigation didn't appear to have any strange behaviors or reactions. It was as all investigations had taken place. Yet, this police report said otherwise.

Ron started again. "And look. Before the report there's some kind of letter written to an 'Agnetta'. This was written by a private investigator in New York, Thomas Deacon. It has an address and everything."

Harry had in fact noticed the letter written to this Agnetta as well. It was peculiar to say the least because the American Auror mentioned a stolen police report. This one, however, looked to be intended as a copy directly to an Agnetta. If this was really what was happening, then this Thomas Deacon would know more about their case.

"Okay. I'll admit it's a bit strange that yesterday's investigation info is already on there. But then why does it seem like this Thomas Deacon wrote it? It's as if he was writing it to directly inform this Agnetta of these sick bastards. Is she some sort of police official?"

Ron shrugged his shoulders and looked intently at the artist's impression drawing of the supposed serial killer roaming around London. The drawing of the man's face had a skin tone appearing a little tan. He had short black hair that split down the middle on the front, as each half was combed to each side. His thick chevron mustache was the his most prevalent feature though, aside from his threatening glare.

It finally hit Harry that they were now unable to rely on their other best friend. Hermione was the brilliant one when it came to puzzling cases. In his and Ron's missions, strategies and planning were a tenacious part of their job and even though they couldn't confide in Hermione since she was now a ministry employee and not an Auror, Ron had picked up the slack.

He had shown that he grew much from the awkward lanky boy that Harry once knew. His confidence level was still not at his highest but he demonstrated learning much along their travels. Hermione was often shown in him too as he was now more keen to do research and other things that surprised Harry greatly.

Even now, having his best friend urge and caution him from telling anyone else was a safe route. He was usually pig headed and urged action without planning during Hogwarts. Now, however, it was evident that Hermione had a definite positive effect on him.

Harry still wondered how they took so long to realize their true feelings for one another. It had been so amusing for the rest of their friends to partake in their teasing but Harry saw everything evolve with his own eyes since the day they met on the train.

It wasn't going to be easy to avoid her. Harry knew that much. "You know that it's going to be impossible not letting Hermione know right?"

Ron placed the files down and looked down. So many thoughts and ideas on how to avoid his best friend and girlfriend swam through his mind. He couldn't settle on one particular excuse. It just wasn't like him to suddenly lie to her and knew it wouldn't work either. His primary excuse would be that it was Auror business and this time he really couldn't share.

"We'll be alright." Ron said assuredly.

"Right. Did this man mention anything else?" Harry asked.

Ron thought for a second. "Yeah well, he's called a Shadow Man, whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. He also mentioned someone by the name of Nettie. Said that she was mad for making him take me to her. Do you think she might be this Agnetta on the police report?"

"Take you? What do you mean take you? I suppose he didn't reveal any details about that either?"

Ron shook his head and stared at the dusty floor. It looked like Kreacher hadn't cleaned this particular room in a while. While the Black house looked much more polished since their time during the horcrux hunt, the floor had an unusual dirtiness to it. Ron didn't pay it no mind.

"No. All I know is that he doesn't need a wand to be intimidating. Whatever the hell he is or where he is, we must be careful and not let any information slip. I mean it Harry. This feels a whole lot bigger than this investigation mate."

Harry returned to his seat on the table. Once more he picked up the different photos and attachments belonging to each murderer. He also picked up the artist's impression photo of the one believed to have caused the murders in London. He observed it for a while and took note of the mustache on the man's face. It looked like a style from the 1800's. Thoughts about why this man's behavior was similar to Jack the Ripper's didn't make any sense. No one was ever able to solve the case that happened years ago, yet here this man was committing the same violent crimes as his predecessor.

"I still don't know how you're gonna avoid telling Hermione about what happened."

Ron sighed. "I'll figure something out. But we can't go to Robards or the rest of the team. The last thing he said was that he was going to come back later. He said he needed my help."

"I still say it's some sort of trap. What if he's with them. What if he followed Voldemort huh?"

Ron smirked as he remembered the fear he felt when he told Mike that he was a Death Eater. Even the idea of Voldemort seemed like child's play to him. He never met anyone who took the dark wizard so lightly.

"He laughed at the thought of Voldemort. No, Harry trust me. I think he was warning me. Something is definitely going on with those arseholes in that report."

"I still can't believe you're just gonna brush off some bloke who broke into your flat that could've killed you." Remarked Harry. He thought it odd of Ron's calm behavior. He supposed that maybe this mysterious Shadow Man was the real deal.

"Well he didn't. He seemed eager to get me to comprehend what was really going on but I was angry at getting bested by him. You should've seen him! One tap on his chest and the curse rebounded back to me. Had me on the floor feeling helpless."

Harry continued thinking about a plan as something finally hit him. "Maybe we can find out more about him," he said.

Ron turned his gaze to him and furrowed his brow. "What do you mean?"

"Yeah. We can go to the ministry archives. They have everyone on file remember? You know his name. We can check this 'Nettie' that he was speaking of as well. See if she matches up to the 'Agnetta' in the police report."

"I guess it's worth a shot. I don't completely trust him. I just have a feeling. Although he did mention that he was going to come back."

"When?"

"Didn't say…that's the weird part. It's like he knows everything about who I am and where I'll be next. It's pretty disturbing actually. I haven't had one follow me around like that since Lavender."

Harry smiled for the first time that morning. "That's an amusing thought. And how do you plan on avoiding telling Hermione about all this? Let me hear your brilliant plan Weasley."

"Haven't thought about it yet Potter. She was questioning me this morning and I kind of left her hanging. I hope she doesn't read too much into it."

"It's Hermione. When doesn't she read too much into things? I don't know Ron. This might be bad."

"Listen, let's focus on Mike. Get changed so we could go to the ministry."

"Fine."


Granger Dental Practice – London, England (8:22 am)

The moment Ron left the door without answering her questions left Hermione puzzled and a bit annoyed to say the least. She had a suspicion that this investigation he was now involved with was something bigger than the rest. Awful thoughts sprung to her mind but remembered that Ron wouldn't just avoid her without at least reassuring her that things would be okay.

It started the night before when it dawned on her that he was hiding details and knew immediately something was off. He had a shocked and traumatizing look that she had only seen on him after the war. When he was in mourning Hermione became more aware of the emotions emanating from Ron. The face she saw the night before was one similar to all the times she tried to comfort him. He would reply, "I'm fine," when it was clear he wasn't.

Still, Hermione tried to put her uneasy thoughts to rest if nothing was indeed wrong. She also didn't want to ruin what they had just fixed. She wanted to be done with the fighting and shouting and believed if she inquired further, it would spring some new tension with Ron.

As soon as he left, she took a bath and got ready to attempt to meet up with him at his office since that's where she presumed he'd be. She considered this her best option because she could act nonchalantly and hope he'd break on his own. Although, knowing him, it might prove a bit tricky.

Before embarking on her plan she first wanted to discuss things with her mother, seeing as how it had been quite a while since they talked due to Hermione's work. She also wanted to visit her parents because of her excuse the night before to the Weasley family. If Ginny found her in her flat and not having breakfast with her parents, then she would never let her hear the last of it.

She still thought it was quite strange behavior from Ron, having left their flat this Friday morning on their day off. He would snooze until the afternoon if he saw fit. Leaving so early this particular day threw Hermione for a loop and she wanted to know what was happening. She assumed Harry would know as well, but opted for confronting her red haired boyfriend first.

After brushing her teeth, taming her hair, and getting changed, she disapparated to an alley near her parents' practice. When she was on her feet steadily, she looked around to see if it was safe to come out. Practically no one was around so she left the alley and headed toward the Granger Dental Practice.

The building looked a bit small and worn from the outside, but the minute she walked in, innovative decorations were done to make the place seem cozy and comfortable. She headed for the receptionist's window.

"Hermione! Good to see you again. Are you here for an appointment?" asked the receptionist.

"Hello Linda. And oh no. I was just wondering if my mother was around?"

Linda nodded and pushed a button underneath her desk that gave a clicking sound and unlocked the door next to her window.

"Yes, she's in her office right now looking over patient files. Go right in dear."

Hermione thanked her and proceeded to walk through the door. There was long hallway with doors on each side that had many assistants and x-ray technicians walking in and out of them. They all greeted her as she continued down the hall to her mother's office.

She knocked on the door upon reaching it to which she heard a loud, "Come in!"

She opened the door slowly and saw her mother sitting behind her desk. "Oh Hermione dear! It's so good to see you," spoke Mrs. Granger, standing up from her chair.

Hermione smiled and closed the door behind her. "Hi mum," she uttered softly as she embraced her mother in a tight hug. Mrs. Granger motioned for her to have a seat.

"Is dad with a patient right now?" inquired Hermione.

"Yes dear, he's rather busy at the moment. It's funny you bring him up because the man he's preoccupied with only has one name. Can you believe it? He has no last name—strange isn't it?"

Hermione's eyes grew wide in amusement. "Really? So like Madonna?"

"Yes. Well, no. Madonna is just a stage name. She obviously has a last name but this man's ID only had a single name."

Mrs. Granger looked through the files of patients on her desk much to Hermione's interest. She fumbled a few papers around, trying to find the file of that particular man. "Let's see…ah it's a Mr. Legion that your father is attending to. Hmm…it's interesting to find a fellow like him. He's been having bloody gums for the past week."

Hermione immediately became horrified at the thought. "Mum that's gross."

Mrs. Granger laughed and Hermione shook her head at the disgusting image and smiled. "So Hermione, what brings you here so early darling? Where's Ron?"

At the mention of her red-haired boyfriend her smile faltered as a frown took its place. She stared down at her hands intently that were now fidgeting and becoming sweaty. "Umm…you know I'm not quite sure where he is actually," she said with a nervous snicker.

Mrs. Granger immediately sensed some tension brewing inside her daughter. After being restored of their memories, they had insisted Hermione leave the wizarding world as an attempt to protect her. It took many talks with Ron's family to sort out what had happened but were assured nothing of the sort would ever occur again.

This didn't necessarily mean Hermione was off the hook. Following their venture into Australia, Hermione's parents were much more cautious about what went on in the wizarding world and wanted to make up for lost time. This didn't change much even after they had accepted Hermione was a grown woman and was perfectly capable to make her own decisions. Her mother still worried deeply and even consulted Ron privately to always watch over her. She was still their only daughter and weren't planning on losing her.

"Did something happen?" asked Mrs. Granger with a concerned expression on her face. Hermione was quick to shoot down any thoughts her mother might have been thinking about.

"No, no. Well I mean yes. We had a row at work, but we worked it out. He had to go on another…umm…operation. He didn't come until late last night but then left quickly again this morning to who knows where. His behavior has been a bit strange since last night, that's all."

Hermione's mother nodded and processed what she was told for a second before answering. "Maybe he's overworking himself darling. You always hint at all the dangers his job brings forth."

"Mum it's not dangerous. It's—"

"Just like the Bobbies darling, I know. You've told me countless times. I may not know the details but it sounds like what he does is very important and if I know the police here occasionally brings trouble, I can only imagine how it must be for him."

Hermione sighed and stared at her hands once more. There was no trying to fool her mother. It was always something about mothers knowing everything without knowing anything at all. It made no sense but she was convinced this phenomenon was actually a thing. For a moment she thought about how she would fare as a mother and whether she would attain this inexplicable trait. The thought of having kids with Ron made her ears turn a bit red, but she avoided showing any indication to her mother.

Right on cue Mrs. Granger brought her daughter away from her thoughts. "What's on your mind Hermione?"

"I'm not even sure myself if I'm honest. He was so happy after we made up and when I saw him come home, it was as if he was hiding something. I know he's technically not supposed to disclose details of an ongoing investigation but he always tells me. This was so much different though," she said with a peculiar expression on her face.

Mrs. Granger studied her daughter's face and tried to offer some comfort. "Well…police conduct investigations, I'm sure he's just stressed and tired about it all dear. You're the same way too with something you don't quite understand remember? Just give him time and I'm sure he'll come around."

Hermione sighed once more and offered a small smile to her mother. "I guess you're right. His behavior this morning was just a bit strange. He never leaves anywhere on a Friday since it's our day off. He'll sleep through the morning if I don't wake him up. He'd also tell me where he was going in the event of an emergency."

"Did he look unsettled?"

Hermione thought for a second. "A bit."

"Have you tried his family?"

Hermione thought back to what she had told the Weasley clan the night before. She didn't want the night to drag on so she remembered the excuse she used to buy her way out of overstaying at the Burrow. There was no way she could visit that morning. She was also sure Ron would have at least told her that he was going home. No, she thought. He couldn't have gone there.

"No I was with them last night and made up an excuse to leave early because I didn't want to impose. I said I would have breakfast with you and dad, which is ironic since I'm here."

Mrs. Granger's eyes widened as she feigned shock. She placed her hand over her chest and continued to look as if she was in great dismay. "So you weren't planning to see me? How dare you!?"

Hermione began to shake her head and tried to reiterate what she meant. "No mum, you don't understand. I—" She stopped mid-sentence as Mrs. Granger erupted in a fit of giggles.

"I'm only joking Hermione. You're so easy sometimes darling," she said as she tried to catch her breath.

Hermione had a blank stare and thought unceremoniously how similar her traits were to Ron. She had heard the expression of boys marrying girls like their mothers, but then thought if it was the same for girls as well.

"Thanks. You and Ron are more alike than you know, which is a bit frightening actually," she said with a raise of the eyebrows.

"We all have to let loose Hermione. As you know very well, your father is the serious one."

Hermione grinned and nodded her head at the remark. "That I do."

She had high hopes that she was able to meet with both of her parents but knew how busy the practice was early in the morning. Seeing her mother had made her feel a bit more at ease, but something still bothered her about an incident that occurred the night before. Curiosity got the best of her and she knew she was going to get to the bottom of this, if it was the last thing she did. A loud knocking on the door interrupted her thoughts and brought both women out of their conversation.

"Come in," shouted Mrs. Granger.

The door sprung wide open and one of the practice's dental assistants appeared. "Sorry to interrupt Dr. Granger, but Mrs. Parker is all prepped and ready for her fillings."

Mrs. Granger smiled and fixed the files on her table to come together. "Thank you Kathy, I'll be with her shortly."

The dental assistant nodded and quietly closed the door.

"Well I guess that's my cue. I'm sorry I can't spend any more time here dear. Let's set up dinner, it's been a while you know? And I'm sure nothing is wrong with Ron, Hermione. Ease into him. I'm sure he'll tell you what's on his mind. You can also help him by releasing his stress and tension you know?" she spoke with a provocative smile and a small wiggle of the eyebrows.

Hermione immediately became appalled and widened her eyes at what her mother was suggesting. It was not uncommon for her mother to throw innuendos around when she became of age. At least Hermione knew that her mother didn't lose her sense of humor after restoring her memories.

"Mum!" Hermione screeched with red cheeks filling with embarrassment.

Mrs. Granger retained a professional and complete innocent look. "What?"

Hermione shook her head. "Nothing you're just too much sometimes," she chuckled.

"Okay well I have to run Hermione."

Both women stood and proceeded to head out the door. Mrs. Granger opened it and motioned for her daughter to step out into the hallway.

"Tell dad I said hi and that Ron and I will see you two soon again for dinner. I'll let you know when."

"Splendid! I'll be sure to tell him," replied her mother.

Hermione went over to embrace her once more before departing. For some reason she maintained a sad expression on her face. It was never easy to say goodbye to her parents for any small thing anymore. She had a fear that she could lose them again and tried her best to see them on any occasion.

"Bye mum."

"Goodbye darling. Don't forget to floss. And remember dear," she spoke in a whispering voice while edging closer to Hermione's ear. "…Ron's release..."

Hermione promptly released her mother's embrace and tried to cover her red face filled with embarrassment. "Mum! Oh my goodness!"

Mrs. Granger smiled brightly and winked at her daughter. "Good luck dear!"

"Bye, I'll see you soon!"

Hermione walked along the hallway and stepped out onto the waiting room before exiting the building. Mrs. Granger watched her leave as another door opened two doors down as a tall man wearing black clothing stepped out.

"Ah Mr. Legion. How are you feeling?" asked Mrs. Granger.

The man removed the gauze in his mouth and touched his cheek briefly, still feeling the effects of the anesthesia. He looked to her and smiled viciously.

"Exceptional," he spoke deeply as his sinister voice echoed, almost as if multiple demonic voices fused into one.

Mrs. Granger furrowed her brow and noticed the faint echoed sound when he spoke. At her expression, the man in black turned around and headed for the waiting room. She was about to follow him when Mr. Granger stepped out.

"That poor bloke. Gingivitis was killing his gums. He should be good now after the treatment as long as he takes the antibiotics but hell that was messy." Mr. Granger stopped as he noticed his wife was looking out onto the waiting room. He went over to bring her out of her daze.

"Hey what's wrong?" he asked.

Mrs. Granger finally acknowledged him and shook her head. "Oh nothing. I just thought I heard something, but it was nothing." She maintained a concerned expression as she continued to gaze at the man who was now sparking a conversation with the receptionist.

"Your daughter was just here by the way," she said.

"Really?"

"Yes. You just missed her actually. She said she'll be with us for dinner soon."

Mr. Granger smiled and walked over with her down the hall. "Great! You can make your delicious steaks again. You know how Ron loves them," he said with a raise of the eyebrows.

"That boy definitely has an appetite," she said.

Mr. Granger proceeded inside another room with a patient. Before Mrs. Granger entered another room, she looked back toward the waiting room. The man in black had been staring at her from the receptionist's window. As she looked into his piercing blue evil eyes, he promptly moved away from the visible window as he left the practice. The look he gave Mrs. Granger was enough to send chills down her spine.


Ministry of Magic- London, England (8:35 am)

Harry and Ron stormed through the empty halls of the ninth level of the ministry. No employees were ever seen on this floor since only a selected number of witches and wizards were ever allowed on the same floor as the Department of Mysteries. The archives were on a separate enchanted room housing current and past registered witches and wizards' data files that had top level security. Aurors were one of few that were allowed clearance on the floor, but were still restricted upon entering any of the other rooms.

Ron thought it was a bit strange that this sensitive information was placed in the same circular Entrance Chamber of the Department of Mysteries, but in a way it made sense since hardly anyone was allowed inside that room anyway.

After they requested their specific destination in the circular room and were granted access inside the locked door of the archives, they entered swiftly. As they strolled through, there was a corridor which led to what looked to be a small office no more than a few meters in length and height. The tiles on the walls changed from black to brick red and maintained the torches that lit up the way.

Harry and Ron opened the wooden door and headed inside. As it was enchanted, the inside looked to be two or three football fields long. Shelves took the most space in the room as hundreds were stacked behind others. These shelves contained shiny metal boxes which held the records of witches and wizards in alphabetical order. The ceiling changed on occasion and as of that moment it looked exactly like an empty night sky full of stars. The sides of the rooms were mahogany in color and filled with more shelves containing books and even more public records.

A large table was on the right side of the door and that's where Harry and Ron proceeded to head to. On the table was a piece of parchment and a funny looking quill with a red feather.

Ron picked it up and began to write. "Okay, he mentioned that his name was Michael LeRoi. He also said Shadow Man. I'll write down both and see what shows up," he said.

Harry nodded as he watched Ron write down both names on the piece of parchment with the feather quill. The ink on the parchment began to disappear and with a sudden jolt, the parchment sprang to life and flew speedily down the halls of the hundreds of shelves.

"Ron you mentioned that he told you he wasn't a witch or wizard. Now that I think about, how is this supposed to help us?" Harry asked.

Ron looked incredulously at his best friend. "Did you seriously forget?"

Harry had a blank stare.

With a shake of his head, it dawned on Ron that his best friend was still in denial about most of the details he disclosed at Grimmauld Place. It had been Harry's idea to look in the archives but now he appeared to look a bit on edge about the whole thing.

"The archives also have muggles' files who are in contact, have contacted, or know anything about the wizarding world."

Harry looked surprised for a moment but soon recovered. "Oh yeah. I guess it slipped my mind. I still can't believe you have that muggle police report. Maybe we should inform Robards and let him and the rest of the team know we have it. They can help with protection. If you're worried about Hermione—"

"Look let's just wait and see if we have anything on this Mike bloke. We need leverage and right now all we have is his word and this muggle report. If worse comes to worst, we'll tell them. But trust me Harry, I know something bad will happen if we do. He was serious about someone dying. Nobody can know. And this isn't about Hermione either you git."

Harry looked unsure of this but nodded and looked around at the shelves. The large room had a cozy feeling that resembled a lot like how the Great Hall at Hogwarts felt. Not even Hermione was allowed in this room without attaining permission from a higher office. At first she had been chastised by Ron for needing his accompaniment to enter the room for her case on elves. He immediately regretted it the moment they got home where she refused to acknowledge him.

In almost no time at all, the piece of parchment came flying back and fell slowly onto the desk. Inked words began to form.

No information pertaining to "Michael LeRoi" or "Shadow Man" found.

Ron picked up the piece of parchment and shook his head as he showed his best friend. "Should've known. Look."

Harry picked up the piece of parchment from his best friend and began to ruffle his hand through his hair upon reading it. "Well at least it was worth a shot."

"What now then? We have a worthless report if we can't tell anyone and we have no leads to the murderer in London," said a hopeless looking Ron who fell lazily on the chair next to the desk.

Harry started to pace to formulate a plan but everything he thought of involved the Auror office and Robards. He looked at his best friend pleadingly, but Ron shook his head reading his mind. Harry knew when to stop pushing the subject and finally resorted to trusting his best friend. They would not inform anyone, but limited resources weren't enough to put this case to rest.

As he continued pacing he suddenly stopped in his tracks as something came to mind. "Ron you said that this bloke mentioned someone named 'Nettie' right? Let's see if she's the same as this 'Agnetta' character that the private investigator wrote to. Maybe we can find something."

Ron nodded. "I'll try it." He took the magic quill and wrote down 'Nettie' and once again they saw the ink disappear from the parchment. It rose and flew away from them as it headed back into the hundreds of shelves.

"Did he mention anything else pertaining to her?" asked Harry.

Ron shook his head. "Not a word. I've never seen a more mysterious bloke in my life if I'm honest. It's one thing to keep something a secret but this one takes it to the next level."

In almost no time at all, the piece of parchment returned with a particular shiny metal box on its tail. The parchment fell flat on the table and the metal box slowly descended onto Ron's hands.

"There must be thousands of Nettie's in here!" groaned Ron.

Harry took the box and set it on the table. He opened it slowly as it was revealed that a single document was housed inside to Ron's surprise. Harry picked it up and proceeded to read it. A moving picture of an old woman took most of the space of the document which was dated 1879. The old woman had many wrinkles and plenty grey hairs around her head. She never looked toward the camera as it seemed the photo looked to be taken from above her face and to the side. It only offered a blurred look from which little movement on her part occurred. It was black and white and appeared ancient. Harry looked beneath the old photo which had some information on her.

Real name: Anjenetta Grampion

Aliases: Agnetta, Mama Nettie, Nettie

Occupation: Unknown

Residence: Unknown

School: Unknown

Birth Date: Unknown

Ethnicity: African

Religion: Unknown

Affiliates: Unknown

Wand: Unknown

Patronus: Unknown

No additional information known.

"Do you think that's her?" asked Harry.

Ron scratched the back of his head. "I'm not sure but it says Agnetta. She probably goes by all those names listed but I wouldn't know. Like I said, Mike didn't mention anything about her. Just said she was mad for trying to get me to go with him. Although, for whatever reason I'm not willing to bet this old tart isn't her either."

Harry looked back at the photo and tried to look for any indication or clue that could point them to any relation with Mike. The only thing that stood out was how unusual it was that almost no information was known about her.

"It seems nothing is known about her. And look at the date, 1879. That's over a hundred years ago. I doubt this is her."

"Hell I wasn't expecting much anyways," said Ron tiredly.

They soon left the archives to make their way back to the Auror office. They began walking through the door that led to the Entrance Chamber just as someone was exiting another doorway which had the glowing words of 'Death Chamber' above the door. It was Audrey.

"Hey Ron. Hi Harry. We missed you both at dinner. Are you here on Auror business?" she asked.

Both men looked at one another and nodded their heads. "You two work so hard. Will it kill you to take a break every once in a while?"

"You never mentioned that you worked in the Death Chamber, Audrey," said Ron with a curious glare. Harry shook his head slightly and smiled at her trying to avoid raising any suspicion.

Audrey made a frown and appeared to think back to herself. "Actually, your whole family knows. I think you were away on a mission when I broke the news. And well, that's all I could really say. I'm an intern Unspeakable and so I can't speak of it, hence the name," she said smiling.

Ron came to an understanding with Audrey. He hardly put any effort in getting to know her better. His family had always been nonchalant with her since she kept private most of the time and was only seen at the Burrow when Percy was around. It frightened Ron in knowing that perhaps he had met an even bigger prat than Percy himself, much to Hermione's retorts to be respectful.

She walked alongside them quietly exiting through the black door and headed back towards the lift. Audrey was about to speak again but suddenly there was a loud echoed flapping sound. Ron had accidentally dropped the muggle police report and he was quick to bend down to pick the files up. Audrey was much faster as she picked up a file on instinct to help. She picked up the one which read "HOME IMPROVEMENT KILLER" and began to read.

"Has so far murdered twelve people of both—"

Before she could finish Harry quickly took out his wand.

"Accio report!" he hollered.

The file that Audrey possessed suddenly flew out of her hand and onto Harry's. She stared at her hand puzzled and looked curiously back at Harry and Ron.

"So you're investigating a serial killer? In New York? Why New York?" she inquired a bit too persistently.

Ron pinched the bridge on his nose and Harry shot him a death glare. He was quick to refute her to prevent any more unnecessary damage. "Oh no, this is just something we heard about going on in America. We monitor all threats so it's just a precaution but we're not involved really."

Audrey turned to continue walking and smiled to herself. "If you say so," she said a bit too playfully.

Ron didn't know when to quit and tried to convince her even further. "No really, this isn't even ours. Just something to browse you know?"

Harry elbowed him in the stomach hard.

"Ow! Hey! What was that for!?" he shouted.

"Shhh!"

"Why? She doesn't know anything!" As soon as the words left his mouth, Ron was wide-eyed and he slapped his forehead at his stupidity.

"Ron shut up!" shrieked Harry.

"Sorry, I forgot! Won't happen again," Ron said guiltily.

"Stop talking!"

"Okay!"

Audrey finally bud in to stop the endless charade. "Hey, hey! I'm not some piece of chopped liver just standing here. I know I shouldn't have picked it up, but it was on instinct! And I read that accidentally. I was trying to be nice. I'm sorry."

Harry and Ron looked at each other looking unsure of themselves. The one thing they were trying so hard to protect now became easily exposed, and to someone familiar as well. It's not that they believed Audrey would speak out on what they were working on but rather feared what Mike had warned Ron about.

"Listen I'm not going to say anything. I don't even know what's going on!" she pleaded.

Harry and Ron once again looked at each other with unbelievable stares at Ron's accidental slip.

"Okay fine! I'll tell you what. I technically know something about your case or whatever you two are up to and I want to make things even."

"What do you mean?" asked Ron crossing his arms.

Harry stared intently at her and she looked between the two of them carefully. She sighed and took a deep breath. The information she was about to disclose was dangerous and sensitive information. She could even send herself to Azkaban for this.

"I want to make things even. I'll let you in on a little secret. I promised I wouldn't say anything but if you have information pertaining to my work then you'll have something on me just in case."

"Just in case of what? Are you suggesting an opportunity for us to blackmail you in case you say something about what you saw?" Harry asked with a raise of the eyebrows.

"Precisely. I want to put you both at ease."

Harry couldn't make out what bit of sense that would bring. He believed knowing too much information was bad and in this case he knew that Audrey was exaggerating a bit. "No Audrey, we can't let you do that. It's fine really—"

At this moment Ron intervened between the two and placed his hand on Harry's chest as if telling him to stop talking.

"Hold on. Let's hear what she has to say."

Harry shot another glare at his best friend and shook his head slowly. "Audrey you don't have to do this. Really, it isn't a big deal."

Audrey finally stepped in between them. She grabbed both of their hands and pulled them close to the lift and away from the door to the Entrance Chamber. The air seemed thin and as she looked around at the black tiled walls and empty walkway. She felt unsure about what she was going to share.

"Listen, It's okay. I shouldn't have seen what I saw and now I really can't take my mind off it. I'm not saying I'm gonna let the entire world know but I am rather curious now. Only a little," she said shyly. "I'm only doing this because we're technically family now and I worry about you both believe it or not. Now, I understand you two partook in the Battle of the Department of Mysteries, right?"

Harry and Ron looked at each other for what was sure to be the millionth time as they recalled the events that unfolded during the battle. Vivid memories flooded Harry as he was reminded how his beloved godfather had died. He tried to shake away the thoughts but was unsuccessful. Ron sensed his best friend's thoughts and tried to steer away the subject.

"Umm…do we have to do this now? I mean how is that even important?" he said with a frustrating tone.

Audrey looked toward Harry and sensed she was missing something but decided to carry on anyway. "Well you both know about the veil right? You're actually only a few of many that know of it but what you may not know is exactly what it does or what it's for."

At this Harry's head shot up. Audrey took this as an invitation to continue. "You see, that veil is the door between life and death. Anyone passing from this world into the veil immediately dies. But that's not all. We believe there's a selected few who can cross between both worlds."

"Both worlds? What do you mean both worlds?" Harry asked after having sparked his curiosity.

Audrey turned to him and looked into his green eyes fiercely. She knew about the countless people that gave up their lives to protect him. It felt as if she had dished out false hope to him, just like the resurrection stone. She knew about the events of the battle that took place in the Death Chamber and how Harry had lost his last bit of family along with it. It was important she spoke carefully as to not make him confused with what she was saying.

"Well…we think there's a whole other world. After death. A place to where everyone goes when they die. There are exceptions obviously as seen by many forms of magic that can either prolong life or make it eternal, but for the most part we think we all will eventually pass onto this place beyond the veil."

Audrey suddenly realized the extent of information she let out and immediately became nervous. She looked around and had a sudden urge to leave the ministry. "I'm sorry. I-I think I over spoke. Please don't tell anyone. I can get into real trouble for this."

"You didn't have to mention anything Audrey. We told you, it's not a big deal, but we promise we won't. You have my word," assured Harry.

She nodded quickly and left for the lift without another word or any further acknowledgment to the two of them. As the lift began to take Audrey to another level Harry turned to look to Ron.

"She could have gone to Azkaban you know? She's lucky she's not technically an Unspeakable yet, otherwise the Taboo curse would have activated. And what the hell was that? Dropping confidential files for everybody to see," said an irritated looking Harry.

Ron rolled his eyes. "No one's bloody here mate, relax. And she promised she wouldn't say anything. But did you see her face though? And what do you suppose she means by another world?"

Harry shrugged his shoulders. "Don't know. But what got me really thinking was when she mentioned there are some who can cross between both worlds. Worlds Ron."

"Yeah, weird if you ask me."

The lift came back and both men entered it. Ron reached for the button to the second level. "Harry what are we gonna do with this?" asked Ron gesturing to the muggle police report files in his hand.

Harry took the files from his hand and opened them, searching through the attachments on the reports. "I still don't know. If there's nothing in the archives about this Shadow bloke, then our best bet is to let this whole thing play out and have him come to you again."

"That's the plan!? Do nothing?" asked Ron a bit too aggressively.

"Do you have a better idea? I'm open to suggestions," said Harry crossing his arms looking more annoyed than before. This sudden ordeal that was laid upon them was something to be taken serious, but not much could be done without leads. They were on their own and running out of options.

Harry continued. "Look, Robards mentioned the use of magic when we saw Marie Nicholas' body right? Maybe if we find any leads to this Jack the Ripper impersonator, like a name or something, then we can look him up in the archives. We can work on this until Mike shows up again."

Ron nodded in agreement. "Yeah, that could definitely work. But here's the thing. We have nothing on 'Jack' aside from knowing he preys on female muggles at night. Are you suggesting we sacrifice sleep to bring this arsehole in?"

"It's all we have to go on mate."

Ron slumped his shoulders and groaned. This ordeal was now beginning to have a negative effect on him. He thought to his girlfriend and how he would even begin to explain working through the night. He had to think of something quick. He furrowed his brow while trying to think of another way to do something about the files. He had nothing.

All he could think about was Hermione and how she was the brilliant one when it came to situations like these. She would research and read for hours until she formulated a plan of action. The duo didn't have the luxury of relying on their best friend and knew something had to be done soon.

"You're right. I'll just have to wait for Mike. But this time I'll listen. He said he would find me. And I guess we can investigate more about the muggle killer on the loose in the meantime. It'll get Robards off our backs. I just hope we're playing this right. I don't like waiting around for things to start happening—they usually aren't in our favor," said Ron with a faint of nervousness in his voice.

Harry nodded as the lift escalated them away from the ninth floor. As they began to descend onto the second level back towards the Auror office, a familiar looking bushy haired- brunette awaited them in front of the lift.

"Hermione!" both men shrieked, stunned that they had run into the one person they were trying to avoid. She looked between the two accusingly and narrowed her gaze at Ron who gulped.

"I've been looking all over for you Ron! Have you been here all this time?" she asked as she crossed her arms.

Ron massaged the back of his neck and looked awkwardly at Harry who took a sudden interest at the inner walls of the lift.

"Umm…yeah Auror stuff you know? Always busy," he said with that nervous tone of his.

Hermione's gaze didn't falter and knew right away something was being hidden from her. She looked towards Harry who still didn't look at her in the eye until she said his name.

"Hi Harry," she said.

"Oh Hermione, hi," he said stepping out of the lift to embrace her. She smiled a bit but then looked back at Ron who was avoiding her gaze.

Harry tried to ease the tension knowing all too well what kind of problems would bring with her knowing about their case. "So what brings you here? It's your day off isn't it?" Harry asked.

Hermione turned to look back at Harry and then at Ron again as he finally found the courage to look at her in the eye.

"Ron left early this morning. It's our day off, which is strange because he doesn't like being woken up on his day off. He left without a word and well, I was a bit worried that something had happened," she said with a concerned expression.

Harry looked back at Ron who was still inside the lift and made a face that told him to get a hold of himself and go talk to his girlfriend.

"Oh! Uh…sorry. We had to deliver our investigation reports to Robards' office," Ron said.

Hermione frowned. "I just checked with a few others and Gawain hasn't shown up today. They also mentioned you two haven't been seen this morning as well," she accused.

Ron looked at Harry for help but he shook his head and had nothing. Panic began to show on Ron's face and Hermione continued to look at him intently. With one more gulp, he looked down at the floor and hoped someone, anyone would come in between them to distract her because he was out of options.

"Ah! Potter! Weasley! I need you both in my office immediately," spoke an unhappy looking Gawain Robards approaching the trio behind Hermione.

Ron let out a deep breath and thanked the heavens for his sudden struck of luck. He stepped out of the lift and joined Harry and Hermione.

"Miss Granger, pleasure seeing you today. Second thoughts on becoming an Auror eh?" asked Robards with a warm smile. Gawain always tried to convince Hermione to become an Auror. When he heard of the stories that brought Voldemort's end he was impressed to say the least with the trio, but especially with Hermione. He believed she would become an invaluable part of their team if she joined. However, she always refused but was happy Gawain acknowledged her strengths.

Hermione smiled but shook her head. "Oh no sir. I just came…to see Ron. I'll be going now. Excuse me."

She hugged Harry once more and then went over to Ron. She embraced him tightly and spoke a soft 'I love you' near his ear. But the way she spoke it made Ron feel as if he wasn't off the hook just yet. She kissed him on the cheek softly and entered the lift looking back at him with a sad expression.

Ron tried to convey a similar message to her with his eyes. She knew something was on his mind but remembered her mother's advice and letting him take his time to tell her. She could wait a bit more until he arrived home later. Hermione knew it had to be something serious because Ron was hardly one to keep secrets. He always confided in her and this new type of behavior definitely rose her suspicion that something in fact, was wrong.

"I'll see you later, okay?" said Ron to her.

She nodded and smiled as the lift took her away from the second level.

"Is there anything I should be concerned about Weasley? I need both your heads here today," said Robards in a deep and serious tone.

Harry had been staring at Ron's backside and it wasn't until Robards spoke that he looked back at him. Ron did the same and he shook his head.

"No sir. Everything's fine."

Robards nodded and motioned for them to follow him. "Right then, I want you both in my office. I know it's your day off but we have lots of work to do."

He walked away quickly as Ron followed along with Harry. "Bloody close one mate," he snickered.

Harry grinned but it faltered quickly knowing all too well that Hermione was going to keep asking questions when Ron returned home.

"Ron this was supposed to be my day off you prat. And now we actually have to work. And we have to tell Robards about investigating at night," moaned Harry.

"Yeah well I'm not thrilled either. And it was your idea! C'mon let's go before Robards hexes us."

They walked along the walkway toward the Auror Office, but Harry realized that Ron still had the files in his hand. "Make sure to conceal that muggle police report you slick git."

"I got it," Ron said as he performed a charm that caused the police report to shrink in his hand. He stuffed it in his pocket and headed towards Robards' office.

"Let's go."

Chapter Text

August 26, 2000

Ron and Hermione's Flat – London, England

It had been a little over a week since the Shadow Man had broken into Ron and Hermione's flat. After finally informing Hermione that he wasn't able to disclose any details pertaining to this investigation, things were much more differently between them.

She didn't handle the situation well because on top of refusing to tell her anything, Ron also told her that he was now to conduct investigation business at night with Harry. They had to come up with a way of maintaining Deacon's file a secret and still needed more clues. Their only option was to patrol the streets at night to try to catch the man imposing as Jack the Ripper in the act. This meant that as Hermione worked throughout the day, Ron would be in their flat sound asleep.

At first she remembered about what her mother had mentioned about him overworking himself and now thought that was an understatement. Ron's behavior was now much more prevalent in the fact that aside from hiding important details from her, they had stopped spending time with one another.

The moment he would come home from work, Hermione would be seen getting ready and at times he wouldn't even acknowledge her. He didn't do this on purpose. He just wasn't used to working graveyard shifts and was overtly exhausted. Harry and Ron had stormed the empty streets of muggle London and all underground stations for any sign of their prime suspect, to no avail. They even set up special charms that detected any traces of people with similar appearances to the murderer. This was a complex form of magic that was still quite new to them. It has helped them bring in Death Eaters in the past and hoped it would once again aide them here.

Hermione worried deeply about what was really going on between her best friends and for the first time in a long time she felt alone. Countless thoughts plagued her mind as to why or how things went the way they were going. Many times during work, her mind would drift and think that this was somehow her fault.

Even her co-worker, William Knight, noticed something bothering Hermione and would at times try to get her to speak. She liked the gesture of having someone to confide in but remembered how Ron felt about him. Even though this was not a matter of jealousy, she didn't want to further distance herself from Ron. After so many "nothing's wrong" and "I'm fine's," William finally stopped asking. Although, he still tried other attempts to get her to become social again, like offering lunch and even dinner, to which Hermione refused.

Ginny was much more accepting of her brother and Harry's behavior, but perhaps that was because she was on vacation from Quidditch and was still able to see Harry. The same couldn't be said for her and Ron. Hermione and Ginny had lunch during the week and the latter simply told her to stop worrying and urged nothing could go wrong with those two. It's not that Hermione didn't have faith in her best friends, it was quite the opposite really. But it was always the three of them that overcame obstacles and went on adventures together. They were always a trio. Now however, due to differing career paths, it was just Harry and Ron.

Hermione knew she wanted to do some good in the world. At the same time, she was just tired of all the fighting, the pain, and the horrifying events they had to endure. That was the real reason she denied Gawain Robards' offer to become an Auror. She didn't want to fight anymore. She wanted to inspire good in other ways, systematic ways that had long term outlooks.

For a brief moment one night, she thought to herself if she had indeed made the right decision. She looked back at what the three of them had accomplished. If she accepted Gawain's offer to become an Auror, she'd be closer to the ones she loved. But she wasn't sure if she would be ready to return to the fighting. Hermione knew for sure that she also wasn't keen on dark wizard hunting—it just wasn't her.

Night after night she would spend them gazing at the night sky wondering how these events unfolded. She tried reading her beloved books or watching anything on the television but it was pointless. No matter what she did, she couldn't stop worrying and even on some nights, spent it crying her eyes out.

Ron especially knew how difficult this was on Hermione and wanted nothing more than to do away with the investigation, but he had a duty. It was torturing him to continue in this selfish behavior and avoid her, but knew if for a single moment she had an opportunity with him, he would break. Mike's words resonated in his mind and after the torture Hermione sustained with Bellatrix Lestrange, he wasn't going to take a chance and risk her well-being. He would just have to make it up to her when the investigation was over.

Today, Ron and Hermione both had the day off again and even with an ongoing investigation, he knew it wouldn't be right of him to leave the flat. After having so many days away from her side, Ron knew he had to be there for her. The day had started as all the others had. He woke up late in the afternoon, almost evening and found her sitting on the kitchen table reading one of her dusty old books.

Ron stood in the doorway leading to the kitchen to admire Hermione. The sight of her looking contently at peace was wonderful to him and guilt suddenly hit his chest like a bullet. How could he not inform her of what was really going on with him? Someone had broken into their home and demanded Ron to accompany him to bring down the mad lunatic running around killing innocent muggles. He remembered the man's glowing aqua eyes and the fear he sparked inside him when told someone would die if any information was let out.

Him and Harry had been cautious about Audrey too, but for the time being nothing had happened to her or anyone else for the matter. Harry was also beginning to become impatient with Ron because no indication of the Shadow Man was shown. All Ron could say was to simply wait as he believed his best friend was starting to have conflicting doubts with his story again.

Ron shook those thoughts away as he walked closer to the table. Hermione flipped a page and continued reading, almost seeming to not notice that Ron was behind her. He coughed to inform her of his presence but she remained seated, still engrossed in her book.

Ron furrowed his brow and went over to the table to sit opposite of her. Hermione continued reading. He looked to her eyes that were scanning the text appearing to be heavily interested in what she was reading. For a moment Ron thought that perhaps this is what he deserved for shunning himself away from her. It looked like she had taken cue and was now returning the favor.

Unsure of what to do he tried sparking a conversation. "Hey…umm what you reading?" he asked.

Hermione flipped another page and continued reading, not taking her eyes off the text. "A book," she replied bluntly.

Ron grinned and shook his head. Hermione would often engage in what he called 'self-indulge mode' usually after having a really bad row. She would ignore him or reply in one worded answers that told him not to bother her if he didn't want to get hexed.

It took every nerve in Hermione's body and mind to continue as she was doing. She wanted to ask questions, hold him close, kiss him, hell even look into his blue eyes for more than a few seconds and become absorbed in them. She wanted so bad to cry her eyes out and hit him with all her strength for his behavior this past week, but she wouldn't allow him the luxury of emotion.

She wanted him to know how it felt this past week, the feeling of loneliness. A part of her thought this was childish but she didn't care. Very little conversation was made during the week. And this occurred right after they made up over their latest row. At one point she thought the problem did lie in regards to William Knight. However, when confronting Harry about Ron, she knew it pertained to Auror business since he wouldn't let up either.

Ron continued watching, now feeling a bit annoyed at how Hermione was behaving. He had no right to be, he knew that. But as he watched her sip a bit of her tea and continue reading he suddenly felt the need to leave the flat.

He couldn't go home to the Burrow. The rest of his family would pester him about his investigation. Even Harry refused to go to the Burrow for the sake of promising not to mention anything to anyone. Ron was surprised at Ginny because she's usually the no-nonsense type and absolutely breaks through to anyone, yet she hadn't questioned Harry any further.

When he finally couldn't take the thin air in the room, Ron stood up and headed to the loo. He washed his face and brushed his teeth and opted for a shower but thought better of it. When he went back to the bedroom he found Hermione sitting there quietly.

He looked at her desolate expression on her face and all annoyed thoughts he had about her left his mind. She had tried to be so strong to replicate to him what she had felt but she just gave in the moment she sensed his irritated thoughts. She opted for his comfort instead. She sat on the bedside with a melancholic expression that spoke volumes to him.

"What's happening to us Ron?" she asked.

He gulped and went over to the bed to have a seat next to her. He searched her eyes and remembered the enticing feeling he got whenever he got lost in her soft doe brown eyes.

"Hermione…"

"Please Ron. Have you any idea how difficult it's been this past week?"

He stared down at his hands with guilt and regret. Tears began forming in her eyes and her tone was much more sound. "I thought things were okay between us. After that row I thought we were fine. But now you can't even look me in the eye and tell me what's wrong…"

"Hermione I told you I can't talk about our investigation…"

"And why not!? What's so bloody important that's made you avoid me?" she said in a frustrated tone. Tears were beginning to escape her eyes.

"Hermione don't do this, not now. Look, I know I've been unfair to you and it's unfortunate that I have to work nights but—"

"It's unfortunate? It's unfortunate!? Ron I have been worried sick about you! Every night I can't fall asleep because I dread something terrible happening to you! And when you come home the next morning I'm just so glad that you're there but to not even be acknowledged…why? I don't understand. How is this any different than the others?"

Ron continued staring at his empty hands. This was turning into a row which he knew was inevitable. He didn't have the strength to start now. Working nights had even made Harry grumpier than usual and Ron despised it. His girlfriend was now tired of being avoided and so he knew that there was only one last thing to do. Tell her the truth.

"Ron look at me," pleaded Hermione.

He took his gaze away from his hands and studied her face. Despite the tear streaks coming down her eyes and the redness of her nose, Ron couldn't see past Hermione's beauty.

"Please. Just talk to me."

She edged closer to him on the bed and moved over on his lap. She placed her head on the crook of his shoulder. They stayed there together for what felt like hours but were merely seconds before he finally spoke.

"I can't. I can't say a word Hermione…" said Ron.

She looked up at his blue eyes. "But why?"

He took in her gaze and now he had teared eyes, fearing for her life that he thought she would be the one to succumb to her slumber if he did in fact tell her of the investigation and of Mike.

"Because…if I say anything…someone will die…"

At that moment she finally realized what she was missing. She didn't say anything but conveyed through her expression that she finally understood.

She leaned in closer and embraced him. Ron didn't know how to feel in that moment. He had finally told her the truth but a part of him felt as if he made the wrong choice. He knew Hermione would no longer pester him about details but realized this opened her up to have more worrying thoughts.

He hugged her close not wanting to let go and she did the same. The embrace didn't last long as she moved back to look at his face. She studied him for a bit and he noticed she looked much better than the week they had gone with hardly any acknowledgement.

She looked at him intently and started to lean in closer to his lips. He did the same and was about to brush against hers when suddenly a crashing sound was heard outside.

Hermione turned away toward the doorway leading to the kitchen and looked concernedly back at Ron.

"What was that?"

Ron immediately became aware at the sound and stood up which caused Hermione to move. She followed him into the kitchen. He moved the curtains of the sliding doors to have a peek at seeing the cause of the sound.

"What is it Ron?" she asked.

He looked back at her and opened the door. "Don't know," he said, knowing all too well what made that sound. He put on his jumper and sneakers and exited the flat to check the small area outside. Hermione remained by the door looking around as well. She noticed the dark clouds looming above that looked to bring a storm.

"Ron you should get inside, it looks like it'll rain soon."

He looked up at the sky and noticed it started to get dark. A thundering sound could be heard that told them it would indeed begin to pour. Ron knew it had to be him. He couldn't understand why the man would show now with Hermione around. He knew he had to inform Harry but the tricky part was to get Hermione not to worry.

"Umm…why don't you go inside? I'll look out here for that sound. It must have been something; it was quite loud."

Hermione looked at him for a moment but soon nodded and closed the sliding door behind her. Ron took this instant to send a patronus to his best friend.

"Harry! Come quick! I think Mike's here around my flat. Hurry!" he said as the blue mist that took the form of a Jack Russell Terrier quickly escalated away.

Upon sending it he could see Hermione peeking through the window. He didn't know if she saw him conjure the patronus but he began to look frantically around as if searching for the source of the sound. He didn't want her to worry, at least not now.

A vehement sound of thunder roared through the sky. Ron looked up and began to feel small drops of water hit his freckled face. A harsh wind started to pick up that caused the surrounding plants and flowers to shake wildly. Ron could see Hermione through the window waving over to him. He looked back up at the overcast sky as more drops of rain came down harder.

Making up his mind he headed for the sliding doors. Before opening the door another loud crashing sound could be heard, this time by the front of the flat. Hermione heard it too as Ron seen her turn away from the sliding doors to head for the front entrance.

"Hermione wait!" he yelled as he ran along the walkway on the flat's side leading to the front entrance. He made it just in time to see Hermione open the door. She looked around curiously but nothing could be seen.

"Did you hear that? It's the same sound again," she said.

"Hermione stay inside. I'll deal with it."

She narrowed her gaze on him and crossed her arms. "What is your problem Ronald Weasley?" She looked short-tempered and frustrated at the red head.

Ron was about to explain when he noticed someone watching from the flat's rooftop. He gaped unbelievably at the man kneeling over right above the front door. It was Mike. This time, however, he had no glowing eyes or chest. Round black sunglasses were worn and he sported a white long sleeve buttoned-up shirt that partially concealed the mask implanted on his skin.

Ron quickly remembered about Hermione and tried to conceal the face he had made. Her arms were still crossed as he looked between the two. His breathing increased as he suddenly feared for Hermione's well-being. She noticed his gaze shift between her and the rooftop and was about to head outside.

"Hermione please! Stay inside! I'll be right in!" he pleaded desperately.

Doing the exact opposite, Hermione became even more annoyed and stepped outside to confront him. As she walked toward him he looked back up and saw Mike stand from his kneeling position. Hermione was about to turn back at what Ron was staring at, but almost on instinct without thinking, he pulled out his wand and aimed it directly at her. She stopped in her tracks. Fear took over her irate expression. This was something entirely different. Ron had never made any advance like this to her.

"Ron what are you doing?" she asked nervously. Her heart began to race as she could feel the fluttering of hundreds of butterflies within her stomach.

Ron gulped as he was struggling with his own internal battle. He couldn't let her find out about Mike. One last look above confirmed if she indeed looked back, she might become a victim. He couldn't let that happen.

"I'm sorry Hermione. Please forgive me for this," he said with a pained expression.

Her heart raced even further as horror and panic flooded her eyes. She could feel the rain and his reluctance but couldn't figure out why his wand was aimed towards her.

"Ron—"

"Stupefy!" he exclaimed as a jet of red light hit Hermione directly in the chest, causing her to fall hard on her back. After realizing what he'd done, he ran to where she had fallen and dropped to his knees beside her. "Hermione! Hermione are you okay!?" he ranted, bringing her head closer to him. He heard a faint snicker above him that immediately fueled his rage.

"Heh heh…Finally. I was wondering when you would do something about her," spoke Mike's deep raspy voice. He jumped stiffly off the roof and landed by the stairs leading to the front porch.

Ron turned to look at him enraged with anger. "Shut up! Look what you made me do!"

Mike walked over to the two of them but stopped in his tracks when Ron stood and aimed his wand at him. Aggravation filled his veins as he straightened up, vowing to take revenge on him. "You stay the hell away from her!" he yelled. He had been nervous about their last encounter but now he didn't care. He looked more sure than ever at wanting to inflict him pain.

"Put that thing away before you get hurt. You know it had to be done," spoke Mike sternly. "You don't have the slightest clue what would happen to her if she knew. It seems you've learned nothing since our last encounter."

Mike began walking again towards Ron but before he could take another step, he noticed something out of the corner of his eye.

"Stupefy!" shouted Harry from behind the side of the flat. A jet of red light emanated from Harry's wand and hit Mike directly on his ribs. The impact caused him to fly back and hit a nearby tree with a loud thud. He fell forward into a sitting position with his head down, unconscious.

Ron looked to his right at the source of the spell and felt relieved to see who had cast it. It was Harry. "About bloody time you get here!" he said.

After surveying the area, Harry came out of hiding to join his best friend. "Why didn't you curse him when you had the chance you git?" he asked to a dumbfounded Ron. He didn't wait for a response and ran over to where Mike had landed by the small tree in front of the flat.

Ron moved over to where Hermione laid and kneeled over her. "Hermione…I'm so sorry. It's just…you can't find out about this. I hope you can forgive me." Ron brought her head closer to his lap, trying but failing to wake her up.

"Ron she'll be fine, come quick!" yelled Harry, urging him to join him.

Ron picked Hermione up bridal style and moved her onto the small bench on the front porch of the flat. She was soaking wet from the rain and for a second Ron thought about her catching a cold. He cast a small heating charm on her that quickly dried her wet clothes. Feeling pleased with his work, he kissed her on her forehead and turned away to join Harry.

"So this is him then?" Harry asked with his wand still aimed at the unconscious Mike.

"Yeah," replied Ron.

Both men didn't let their guards down as they maintained their wands pointed at the man in case of any sudden movement. They had learned on their missions to never let up easy and this was no exception. Ron was a bit surprised that Mike had let himself get hit. He knew he was more than capable to reflect the stunning spell Harry had cast. He became warier of any action with his body.

"Ron what the hell is that?" Harry asked as he pointed his wand closer to the mask embezzled on Mike's chest. To him, it looked like it was part of his flesh that had a texture similar to bone. He eyed it carefully as he removed some water from his glasses for a better look.

"I told you. I don't know what it is but I think it may be his power source or something."

"Yeah well not anymore. What's changed?"

"He's wearing a shirt for one. And decided to opt for some sunglasses. I still don't feel so sure about this Harry. It seemed almost too easy."

"I thought you said his eyes and that thing there were also glowing, what happened?"

Ron said nothing as he too studied the man sitting on the ground with his head down. He looked like an ordinary muggle without the glowing mask and eyes. For a second he thought about calling in the rest of the Auror team, but something was still bothering him. It had been too easy to immobilize him.

Harry kneeled over to have a closer look at the artifact on his chest.

"Be careful Harry. I'm telling you, this arsehole isn't a joke," warned Ron.

Harry continued edging closer. He studied the man up and down and was about to search for any possible muggle weapons or wand. Sensing someone edging nearer to him, Mike looked up instantly and snuffed Harry directly on the nose.

"Harry!" yelled Ron, seeing best friend fall back, holding his nose in pain.

Ron turned quickly to shout a curse just as Mike landed a hard kick to Ron's groin and jolted upward.

"Arrgh! Fuck!" cried Ron in pain as he fell on all fours, dropping his wand in the process. He reached down to try to relieve some of the discomfort but it was no use. He continued groaning louder and small tears escaped his eyes as he stuttered small chokes trying to breathe. As Harry saw his best friend in pain through blurred vision, he hastily dashed for his wand which had fallen a few feet away.

Mike was much quicker and before Harry could reach for it he felt a sharp pain on his abdomen. Mike had struck a powerful kick that winded him as he attempted to reach for his wand. Harry gasped for air as one hand was trying to stop the nose from bleeding and held the other to his stomach having difficulty breathing.

Both men laid on the ground in distress as the they continued feeling heaven's tears from the sky. Mike picked up Harry's wand and took a moment to observe it. With a witty smirk he grabbed Harry by the neck and raised him up like a human shield in front of Ron, pointing the wand at Harry's throat.

Ron was still in pain on all fours and slowly looked up at his intruder with rage.

"Pathetic. Both of you," Mike pronounced. He held his grip harder along Harry's throat causing him to fight for air. He was now kicking violently and flapping his arms around trying to best Mike but there was no escaping the firm grip.

Ron had seen enough and reached for his wand to curse the man despite his agony. Just as he was going to say the incantation, he stopped upon seeing an aqua colored light shining brightly from Mike's body. Something about him was changing. The wind picked up again as another thundering roar erupted in the air. It poured heavier than before and the rustling wind turned to freezing violent air.

The mysterious man's eyes began glowing behind his sunglasses as well as his chest. The glow illuminated even more which blinded Ron for a quick second. Harry could see the colored light from the corner of his eye but still struggled with Mike's grasp as he continued to fight for air. Following what seemed like a metamorphosis, Mike's appearance had changed into much how he looked when he first confronted Ron.

He was now shirtless and the mask engraved on his skin was now glowing brightly. His menacing eyes received the similar aqua colored glow that brought the fear back in Ron's eyes. This time he got a much clearer view of his appearance and noticed the faint scars that traveled along the man's body. It finally hit Ron how Mike had mentioned the change between Michael LeRoi and the Shadow Man. He had been told that during the day he had a different appearance than during the night when he became the frightening man that was standing before him.

With a great force he threw Harry to the ground besides Ron. Harry coughed violently as Ron went beside him for help—his wand completely forgotten.

"The boy who lived…and a Weasley. The heroes who brought Voldemort down. And with her as well, of course," Mike said steering his gaze to the front porch. Hermione was still unconscious. The man looked above at the heavens at the ongoing jewels of rain and violent shots of lightening irradiating the sky.

Ron still winced in pain, but tried to confront the dark skinned man. "You said you needed…my…help…arrgh…stupid…twat…" he grumbled, still suffering from the kick to the groin.

Harry was finally able to catch his breath and moved his hand to his nose to prevent any more blood from falling. He was dripping a great amount and also continued to grimace with pain at being winded from the kick he sustained. The rain had smeared a bit of the blood on his face that was now washing down his jaw.

"Change of plans Weasley. You two are now coming with me. This could have been easy but this incompetent imbecile just had to act tough," Mike said pointing the wand at Harry. "Your charms will protect us. No one will even see us here," he smiled.

Both men on the floor saw him turn around and move Harry's wand in circles. To Ron's surprise, a circular vortex began to take form that swirled bright blue and black in color. Harry took this opportunity to grab a handful of wet dirt with his hand, hiding it behind his leg. He looked back at Ron with a face that told him to follow his lead. Ron sensed what he was getting at and picked up his wand slowly.

"Now, you two will follow me. I assume you've told your friend here quite a bit about me already isn't that right Weasley?" he asked, continuing his spell.

Ron looked again at the bloodied Harry. He motioned through his eyes to get ready and Ron nodded at the acknowledgement he made.

"What? No answer? I guess he's well acquainted. Like I said, this could have been easier. Everything will soon make sense," said Mike, still concentrating on the vortex.

"NOW!" yelled Harry at the top of his lungs.

Upon hearing his scream, Mike turned quickly and was met with a handful of dirt thrown to his face. "Shit!" he yelped as he tried to fiercely rub the dirt from his eye.

"Expelliarmus!" shouted Ron as a flash of blue light appeared and knocked the wand off Mike's hand. Ron caught it quickly and helped Harry to his feet. Mike shook the dirt off completely and turned to look at the vortex disappearing. Feeling bothered at being bested, he turned his gaze back to the two men now standing. Ron handed Harry his wand and were both now aiming at Mike who began to step back slowly.

"Heh heh…you two are quite the wizards…" snarled Mike.

"Why are you here!?" yelled Harry through his pain. "Tell me or you'll spend the rest of your life in Azkaban to rot!"

Mike continued retreating back and now held his hands in front of him as if surrendering. Harry and Ron stepped forward to follow. "Well I'm here for you of course," Mike said with a serious tone. For a moment all that could be heard was the threatening rumble of thunder and the pitter-patter of the rain trickling down. "If you won't come willingly…then we have a problem…"

He stopped in his tracks near the tree where he'd fallen. Not taking any more chances, Harry and Ron quickly swished their wands.

"Stupefy!" they both shouted as jets of red light emerged from their wands. Mike smiled as he anticipated the stunning spell. With a tap to the mask implanted on his chest, both jets of light bounced off him and flew directly back at Harry.

"Harry!" yelled Ron as he dove to push his best friend out of the way. They tumbled hard onto the ground as they saw the spells hit some bushes. They turned quickly back to Mike who had begun running away from the flat.

"We can't let him get away!" exclaimed a fretful looking Ron.

"Well then get the bloody hell off me!" said Harry, trying to stand on his feet.

Ron pushed away from Harry and stood quickly to help him. "Let's go! He's getting away!"

Both men darted swiftly after Mike. Their agonizing pain had been forgotten as a newfound adrenaline fueled their bodies. They sprinted past the outer fence and onto the street and saw him dashing a few feet away. Bolting after him, it dawned on Ron that they were now out of protection from the charms.

"Harry the muggles!"

"We don't have time Ron!"

Ron shook the thought out of his head as it didn't matter anyway if a muggle would see them. In bringing Mike in, any incidents involving muggles and magic could be bypassed or fixed. They continued running on the street that earned them a few booming honks from cars that were driving alongside them.

Mike turned back to see them on his tail and sped faster, moving away from the street and onto the sidewalk. He cut past a few people trying to get out of his way and others that shouted profanities at his crude behavior. He saw a small alleyway nearing close and headed straight for it.

"He's going into that alley, let's go!" Harry panted with Ron following closely behind. As they reached the alleyway Harry scanned the area for any signs of him. "Ron cast a quick charm to make it look like both buildings are connected. We can't let any muggles come near."

"Got it!" said Ron as he stayed by the entrance to survey the area. Feeling comfortable, he commenced the incantation and wand movements. As Ron began performing the concealment charms, Harry moved further into the alley that had a dead end. Trash bins surrounded the area as well as a few ladders that led up to small balconies on each side and the rooftop. He treaded carefully with his wand at the ready of any sudden movement. He edged closer to the dead end and turned back at Ron.

"He's not bloody here!" spoke Harry frustrated.

Ron finished up the charms and joined his best friend. "He was just here though…"

"Yeah well not anymore. Don't let your guard down. He can pop out at any moment."

Ron nodded as he separated from Harry and started observing the large trash bins on the sides. It was as if Mike disappeared into thin air, thought Ron. Harry gazed up at ladders and the balconies that connected them. It appeared both were part of some sort of apartment complex. Graffiti was written on the moist brick walls and the smell began to become a bit unbearable.

"Harry I've got an idea. Homenum Revelio," spoke Ron aiming his wand at the surrounding environment. In an instant, a faint glow could be seen from the rooftop. "He's on the roof Harry! Hurry!" Ron jumped onto the hanging ladder and started climbing his way up to roof.

"Ron we don't have time! Ascendio!" pronounced Harry as he was lifted into the air and landed sternly on top.

"I thought that only worked in the water!"

"He's running towards the edge! Quick!"

Harry could hear Ron groan in frustration and climb hastily up the wet ladder. Harry started sprinting across the rooftop just in time to see Mike stop upon reaching the end. With a quick glance to each side, Harry realized that they must have been about three stories high. Mike made a quick turn toward the edge and seemed like he was ready to jump off.

"Stop!" shrieked Harry as he finally reached him with wand aimed at his back.

"Oh no, you've got me," said the Shadow Man sarcastically.

Thundering roars and flashes of blue lightning could be seen in the distance. The raining hadn't stopped. In fact, it continued pouring even harder if that were possible. The violent wind didn't let down either as Harry sensed Ron appear directly behind him.

Continuing to face his back towards them Mike spoke. "Listen. I don't want to hurt you two. Don't take this with a grain of salt. Both of you are in danger—"

"Enough!" shouted Harry. "I've heard plenty. Ron told me everything. It's all bollocks! Whatever you have planned with the others just—"

"You think I'm one of them?" retorted Mike, stepping away from the edge. "Be careful in choosing the next words that come out of your mouth Potter." His voice was loud and clear, for at this moment the duo heard what appeared to sound like real menace.

Harry looked like he was ready to curse the man as Ron placed his hand on Harry's arm. He started feeling the burning realization just like their last confrontation. Ron had been angry at Mike's actions, but the part of him that made him trust Mike became more apparent again. He thought the only other option was talking to him.

"Hold on mate," Ron urged.

Harry stared unbelievably at his best friend. Ron continued to push down harder on Harry's arm. It took immense restrain on Harry's part not to curse both Ron and Mike there and then. With a shaking head and furious expression, he finally lowered his wand.

"I thought you said you weren't a wizard," proclaimed Ron to Mike.

Mike matched his gaze. He didn't seem not one bit fazed that he was outnumbered two to one. It was almost as if he welcomed the challenge. "I'm not. I'm more."

"Then how is it you're able to use a wand? Go on then."

Mike looked up again at the dark obscuring clouds hovering above them. "I can't do this with you dimwits right now. We're wasting time. Come with me and you'll know everything," replied Mike.

"Why the hell should we?" questioned Harry. He kept his hand on his wand waiting for a reaction out of Mike. Ron sensed this and was ready to intervene if necessary. He believed to have finally made some ground with Mike. If all is ruined by Harry's temper, then Ron didn't know what else to do.

"You are just the most arrogant sonofabitch I've ever met Potter. You ever hear about Grindelwald? About all the bad shit he did? No? Grindelwald being bad is an understatement. What about Voldemort? Killed lots of normal fucking people and those who opposed him like your parents. Now that's true evil right? Killing to split your soul is fucking evil ain't it? NO. Not even close. If for one second you thought Voldemort was the most evil, sinister dark lord that ever existed, then you both are going to get the assfucking of a lifetime."

"What are you on about?" rebutted Harry, now feeling more desperate to do away with Mike. He was tired of talking.

"The murders happening here are part of something bigger. You read the files I gave you didn't you? The five are here. Shit's about to hit the fan real soon."

Harry looked to Ron with that unbelievable stare once again. "Ron, this is bollocks! I'm calling in Robards."

"Wait!" Ron said looking sternly at his best friend. He turned back towards Mike. "We did some investigating. Nettie, you, everything. How can we possibly trust you?"

Mike crossed his arms. This wasn't new information to him. He was one step ahead all this time. "I gave you the files didn't I? If that's not enough, then my words are just gonna have to convince you. I wouldn't give two shits about the two of you if it were up to me. I've been sent here by a higher power. I mean just look at yourselves. You dress up in stupid looking coats, wake up early and go catch dark wizards. Fucking child's play. Kill one bad wizard and suddenly you feel like the world owes you something."

"Shut up!"

"Harry!"

"Your parents died. You Weasley, your brother died. Your girlfriend's parents were close to dying. The only thing you three accomplished in school was bringing death wherever you went. You're no heroes."

"SHUT UP!" declared Harry in a threatening tone. He was done speaking. He was done accepting this man's accusations and grotesque words. There was no holding back.

"Now you shun the world from you. You think you've suffered? From a single fucking wizard? You think you know loss? You think you've experienced real fucking anguish? You have no idea what suffering is."

Harry's veins were boiling with anger. He no longer looked heated. He expressed a calm and collected demeanor that looked more dangerous if possible. "If I hear you disrespect my family one more time—"

"You'll what? Hex me? Try it. I'll drag both your asses back with me if I have to."

"That's it! REDUCTO!" screamed Harry at the top of his lungs.

"Harry no!" bellowed Ron, who was unable to stop his friend in time.

The jet of white light quickly escaped his wand and headed straight for Mike. Just before its impact, the mask on Mike's chest shined a brighter blue and ultimately cast back the curse.

Harry and Ron cast a quick shield charm that sent the curse flying into the sky. They soon focused their attention back to Mike.

"I'm getting real tired of having to do that. When will you pricks listen?" challenged Mike who began walking towards them.

"Harry it's no use you prat! Any curse we send to him comes flying back!"

"Well then what's your plan!? This tosser has been mouthing off and you're just taking it. I'm done with it. I'll just have to keep trying," remarked Harry. "Stupefy!" He exclaimed as he continued sending a barrage of curses to Mike.

The glow hadn't toned down on Mike's chest as he stood there taking spell after spell without a scratch. Each curse bounced off him like a ball to a wall. Feeling exasperated and discouraged, Harry finally stopped to catch his breath.

"Are you finished? Is that all you have? How did you even manage to defeat Voldemort? If you don't mind me asking," teased Mike.

Harry was about to rush to the man when Ron cast a shield charm between the two causing his best friend to fall back. He looked surprised and then became angry once again at his best friend.

"Ron you slick git—"

Without thinking, Harry sent another stunning spell, this time in Ron's direction which was deflected by the latter.

"Harry stop!"

"Are you on his side!? Shit Ron you're defending him!"

"Harry you don't understand!"

"I understand perfectly! Expelliarmus!"

Ron again deflected the spell. Harry became more aggravated at the fact that Ron was now a formidable wizard. This was no longer Hogwarts where he had slacked off. Ron was more than capable of staying on Harry's level which was showing at the moment.

"Ah look at this, best friends attacking each other. I still don't know why Nettie chose you two numb-nuts. I guess this prophecy is more crazy than it seems. We really are fucked."

At the mention of prophecy Ron deflected Harry's last stunner to the sky. "Enough Harry! Did you hear him!?"

"What now?"

Harry continued pointing his wand at Ron but maintained his gaze on Mike. Ron did the same but had his wand aimed to where Mike stood. From the bellowing sky booming above, they were planted in the position of a triangle, each having their own target. No words were said as the two Aurors were lingering on Mike's next reaction or set of words.

Without a word, Mike sprinted toward Harry. Ron was ready and sent two stunners that bounced off him. Harry rapidly shifted his wand and flicked it to send his own stunning spell at the running man. It too bounced and Harry tried to protect his face, shutting his eyes and awaiting another hard punch, although it never came.

Ron saw Mike do a high front flip over Harry and continued dashing along the roof. "Bloody hell not again!"

Both men reacted quick and continued sending an array of curses and jinxes to try and immobilize the man escaping. Mike was still unfazed as he was much faster and any spell reflected off him.

"Ron…(pant)…Why don't…(pant)…our spells work!?"

"Shut up and keep running!"

They saw Mike reach the edge of the alley and do another front flip off it.

"How the fuck can he do that?"

"Hurry!"

As both Aurors reached the edge where the ladders and alley were, they spotted Mike down below heading back where they came from.

"He's going back to the flat Harry!"

"C'mon then! Let's turn back! We can intercept him if we follow along the rooftop on this side. Let's go!"

Just as Mike made a right turn at the alley, Harry and Ron moved over to the side of the building parallel to the street and began running alongside Mike, albeit still on the roof.

"Ron we have to jump!"

"You're joking right!?"

"Just trust me! C'mon!"

They sprinted even quicker than before and soon reached the edge where they had stopped Mike earlier. Ever closer to the edge, Ron's heart pounced and felt like it wouldn't stop beating faster.

"Fuck! Harry!" he clamored as both men jumped off the rooftop kicking air in the process. "Ohhhh shhiiiiiiiiiiittttttt!" yelled Ron as he felt his heart drop faster than they currently were.

Nearing closer to the ground Mike stopped to turn around and with a surprised expression at the two that had jumped off the three story building. Muggles surrounded the area as well as others in their cars that also turned to see the commotion.

Before landing to their sure deaths, Harry aimed the wand at the ground. "Arresto Momentum!"

Ron continued screaming as their falls were slowed down immensely, causing them to land safely on their feet. The few muggles that surrounded the area stared in awe at the two of them. Ron gulped and Harry urged him to continue to chase after Mike.

They galloped away from the area, as mouths were still dropped staring at the two of them leave.

"Harry those were muggles!"

"It's alright! I'll think of something."

They continued along the sidewalk chasing after Mike who had been briefly seen re-entering Ron and Hermione's flat. They followed swiftly and soon entered it as well. Upon passing through the protective charms they saw him sitting on the porch right next to where Hermione laid.

"Get away from her!" shouted Ron who started dashing after Mike.

"Ron, no!" warned Harry but it was too late.

Mike took off swiftly from the bench like a track sprinter and landed a hard blow to Ron's stomach. The latter couldn't perform a shield charm in time and slunk to his knees with both arms nestling his stomach.

"Argghhh…you…bastard…" stuttered Ron, kneeling over in pain and misery.

"Reducto!" bellowed Harry once more, lamenting the pain that Ron sustained.

Mike was quick to avoid it as the spell hit the front door of the flat, causing it to explode and disintegrate into sand. Harry continued shooting spells but Mike maneuvered past every one and landed a powerful backside kick to Harry's chest.

The kick was struck with such force that a crackling sound could be heard upon impact. Harry landed flatly on his back as both his air was forced out and his glasses partially broke when hitting the wet surface.

Not only could Harry not vocalize his pain but his breathing had stopped for a few seconds as he scrunched his eyes, suffering from the injury. Faint gasps could be heard from him as the Shadow Man stood watching over him. The mass of dark skin balanced the clouds that continued roaring above. The rain was soothing to Harry as he tried so desperately to become lost in the sound of raindrops hitting the earth to escape his pain.

Mike continued staring intently at Harry and then back to Ron who was nursing his poor stomach. He shook his head and walked over to assess the damage on the flat's door. As he observed the scene he noticed Hermione had a small cut on her cheek as bright red blood oozed out. It seemed some debris must have hit her after Harry's spell hit the door.

Ron slowly retreated back towards where Harry laid, still wincing at the inflicted pain he continued enduring. "Harry…arghh…c'mon…we can't let him…go."

Harry could hear Ron's words but couldn't move even if he wanted to. Broken bones could be felt and at the very moment he understood that they had truly undermined Mike's abilities.

The Shadow Man loomed over Hermione now with a fierce gaze set upon the 'Mudblood' scar on her arm. Turning back to look at the Aurors lying on the floor defeated, he made up his mind. Harry and Ron followed his gaze. They could see Hermione begin moving slowly and starting to regain consciousness.

Mike walked quickly over to where the Aurors laid, to which they attempted to crawl back. "Looks like we're out of time. You're coming with me Weasley. Believe it or not I'm no your enemy."

"We just got our arses handed to you, you stupid git!"

"You never had a chance. But don't worry, you'll soon know everything." Mike picked up Ron's wand and began forming the same vortex as seen earlier. He then turned toward him and flicked his wand, causing Ron to suddenly lose consciousness. Without looking back to them, He began walking toward the vortex and threw Ron's wand away before entering.

It landed next to the steps leading to the front porch. Harry tried to overcome his pain and move over to pick up his wand, but it was hopeless. He turned his gaze toward his best friend lying motionless on the floor.

"…Ron…get up. We can't…let him…escape," gasped Harry tiredly. He groaned loud to the heavens that continued to pour hard rain. He touched his nose still covered in blood and looked back at the vortex.

Mike had returned from the vortex and gave a firm slap to Ron's cheek. "Wake up sunshine. It looks like you will be coming with me. Might be a bumpy trip, but you'll be alright."

Ron slowly opened his eyes and saw Mike leave back into the vortex. He looked beside him and found his best friend aching in pain. "Harry…"

He moved to all fours wincing in pain and got to one knee trying to will himself to stand up. He opted instead to crawl over to his best friend. Upon reaching Harry he outstretched for his wand and gave it a quick swish. "Accio wand," he uttered.

Ron's wand came flying quickly back to him as he caught it in time. Looking over at Harry he could see the pained expression of his hopeless stare. Harry looked over to the vortex and nodded his head. Ron turned his head also and understood. He would go alone. This was his plan and he now had to fulfill his duty. Innocents were dying and if Mike was their only hope to put an end to this investigation then he too would have to follow.

Trusting Harry and his instincts he stood slowly, one hand holding his stomach as he was still in pain from the blow. He stood in front of the vortex feeling the rain finally start slowing down with less roars erupting in the air.

Ron was about to take a step when a familiar voice stopped him in his tracks.

"Not so fast!"

Both men turned their gazes and found Hermione aiming her wand at Ron.

"Hermione…" whispered Ron.

"Don't! Don't you dare Ronald Weasley!" exclaimed the brunette. She stood there steaming with her eyes narrowed directly at Ron. It seemed the fear that was sparked inside her before Ron stunned her had fueled the rage now flowing through her veins. She moved her gaze toward the injured Harry and the vortex.

"Listen there's no time to explain!"

"What is that? Where does it lead?" she demanded.

"Hermione please!"

"I said don't!"

Ron looked at her unconvinced that she would harm him. He might have done so but if she'd let him explain himself they would be saved from any further trouble. Although, Ron did see such ferocity in her eyes. He had to make a decision. He remembered Mike mentioning a prophecy and the dangers of loose information and knew they had to get to the bottom of this. What him and Hermione shared was unbreakable, not even this dilemma could come between them. He was sure of it. But could she handle this?

"Ron…we don't have much time. It's starting…to…fade," spoke Harry in a low voice.

Ron looked nervously at Hermione and slowly retreated back to the vortex.

"Don't. Don't you dare Ron. I will never forgive you…" she said as tears again formed in her eyes. Hermione was a brilliant witch, but even she didn't understand several things. Whenever she was presented with a challenge she did her utmost best to overcome the challenge. When she became romantically involved with Ron, she understood that things were sometimes not going to be easy. At this moment, this was one of those situations. She couldn't comprehend why his behavior this week was so intoxicating. She didn't understand why he had stunned her out of nowhere. And now she didn't understand why he was about to enter a vortex as Harry lay bleeding on the ground of their front yard.

Ron's eyes told her a different story. He placed so much effort into the look he was conveying to her. He saw a single teardrop fall from her eye but he couldn't distinguish it from the drops of rain that still fell.

"I'm sorry Hermione. I have to do this. Even I'm not sure why or if this is a trap, but this is bigger than all of us. It can be bigger than Voldemort."

Hermione shook her head as fear and frustration took over her thoughts. She began to think the worst and still couldn't piece anything together. She knew nothing about what happened or what was going on. She was lost. She needed answers.

Ron offered a small smile to her and looked at Harry and nodded. "Take care of her mate." Without so much as a look back he bolted inside the vortex. The last thing he heard before being absorbed into vortex was Hermione's profound cry of a spell.

"Impedimenta!" she shouted but it was already too late. The vortex began to spin uncontrollably. It twisted and turned and moved violently until it slowly faded into thin air.

Hermione stared unbelievably at where the vortex once was and could feel the rain hit softly along her face. Her breathing intensified and heart raced as the tears she was trying so hard to hold in were finally released. She dropped to her knees and cried out to the sky as she felt lonely and scared. She cried uncontrollably, her sobs echoing through Harry's ears. He tried sitting up but still couldn't. With half broken glasses he could see part of her in more pain than he was. He took his gaze away from her and settled for the darkness clouding the sky.

The sounds of rain and thunder slowly stopped as they were now replaced by tears of heartbreak and sorrow emptied by his best friend.

"Ron…"

Chapter Text

August 27, 2000

Bayou Paradis - Louisiana, United States

Mike continued along in his motor boat through the brackish waters of the bayou. Bald Cypress and Willow trees were on both sides of the narrow river channel both men were traveling along. Ron was unconscious laid out in the front of the boat as Mike sat in the back controlling the rudders.

Upon exiting through the vortex, Ron was met with Mike's fist that laid him out cold. He couldn't even see where the vortex had taken him as blackness consumed his eyes before surveying the area. Mike first took the unconscious Ron to his bar that night before traveling to meet up with Nettie. He gave him a sedative to sleep through the night and now both men were traveling by boat in route to the church on the hill.

It was morning and the waters of the surrounding area looked dark and dirty, as a horrible stench could be smelled in the air. Among the trees that stemmed out of the water were large amounts of algae present. The sounds of birds chirping and dragonflies buzzing were also heard as they continued through the calm waters. It was impossible to travel to the church by foot. It was on what looked to be a secluded island that had quite the distance surrounding it. Nothing but murky water and gloomy trees surrounded it.

Mike was careful to maneuver the boat in various directions to avoid any alligators. The area was particularly dangerous as Nettie kept watchdogs all around the secluded island. It appeared large in circumference, but it was no bigger than a few street blocks. The city was a few miles away as boat was the only way to get bypassed the swampy area of the bayou.

There were a few things on Mike's mind but he maintained his focus on getting this ordeal over with. He knew it was going to take some work to get the red head back to Nettie but couldn't help but wonder if Harry Potter would avoid spilling information to their other best friend. The other thoughts on Mike's mind pertained to his family and the emotions he felt whenever he returned to Deadside.

He had been warned of a new evil based on another prophetic dream of Nettie's and still had some doubts. He then pondered about the Dark Souls, the malevolent spirits he was told to collect before this new supposed evil got their hands on them.

He surveyed ahead and up to the lightly red sky as he spoke to himself in his rugged voice.

"I hate this shit. Just a pawn in Nettie's masterplan. She moves me in mysterious ways and brother, sometimes she really does move me. Can't do nothing about it since, nice as you please—she knitted my ribs into the Mask of Shadows. I got nothing left anyways…it's my fault Luke's dead, and mom and pop too. I deserve everything I get, every bad thing that comes my way. Can't live, can't die. Deadside's the perfect hood for me: a nowhere place. The asshole of the universe…"

He shook away his thoughts as they continued making their way past a final pathway. He looked at Ron and realized he would have to carry him on their way to the church. He anticipated a senseless reaction out of Ron as soon as he awoke, but knew he would be on his way well before he did. He had no desire to continue playing the delivery boy for Nettie.

Mike looked up again and finally saw the small pier of the island. He steered the boat in that direction and stopped upon reaching it. He opened a small crate that was inside the boat and pulled out a rope. A tight knot was made to tie around the pier to prevent the boat from drifting. He picked Ron up and threw him over his shoulder as he stepped onto the boardwalk.

A small trail was connected to the pier that led past some more bushes and trees. Mike examined the area and noticed no change since his last visit. This church was hidden to any normal bystander. Nettie performed her activities and practices in this place and Mike tried his best to avoid coming back but it was useless. He had to be loyal to Nettie. Upon planting the Mask of Shadows, he was to do her bidding until his death, which was funny because he couldn't die.

The humid weather was present as it always was. Sweat began to escape Mike's pores and he noticed another stench, this time coming from Ron.

"Looks like ginger here forgot to shower. And it was raining heavily before we left. I don't know how those brits do it. Livin' under overcast 24/7. Just hope this goes smoothly. Shit who am I kidding? We're in for a mental breakdown."

As Mike continued to walk along the rocky terrain of the trail, he came to a stop past some trees and looked up at a hill.

"Finally," he said.

The hill was now in clear view. The environment around this area looked as if it contained all sorts of biomes. After passing through the bushes and trees, the region looked dry and abandoned. Dirt was more prevalent along with small weeds growing from the ground.

The Bald Cypress and Willow trees could still be seen in the distance and algae was more present on the bark of the trees. He continued along the trail that began to ascend upward that made it much harder for him to carry Ron. He didn't complain but stopped upon hearing a familiar sound.

At the top of the trail appeared a Rottweiler that growled menacingly. It began to bark loudly but Mike ignored it and just kept moving. As soon as he reached the top, the dog looked ready to pounce but it kept its distance.

The dogs in this area were aware of Mike and while Nettie mentioned to him that they did not like him, they also wouldn't attack. Another Rottweiler soon showed and then another as they growled angrily at Mike. But it didn't look like they were growling because of him. Their gaze was set to the unconscious Ron. The only ones that ever stepped foot on the island were Mike and Nettie and now the hounds appeared to want to attack the other person intruding into their home.

More Rottweilers came out of hiding and were now surrounding Mike in a circle with furious snarling sounds. Saliva emitted profusely from their mouths as they looked hungrily to bite. Mike helmed no fear as he stared them down through his sunglasses.

The growling sounded louder and more barks could be heard as their appetite appeared to take over their expressions. Two distinct dogs were about to pounce when a figure loomed over the hilltop. It cast a shadow over the ring of dogs surrounding Mike and Ron that caused the beasts to look up.

"Enough! Piss off you miserable mutts. On with you! Let's go!" proclaimed an annoyed looking Nettie that stood above them with arms crossed. "What the hell are you waiting for Mike? We don't have a lot of time! Bring his ass here."

Mike continued on his way as the Rottweilers left whimpering away to the nearby bushes. He took another trail that led to a small area without vegetation. Gravel and sand surrounded the obsolete area as Mike headed straight for the church now visible a few feet away.

The church looked to be in great shape as it had a simple appearance from the outside. It was very small and white in color, save for the brown shingles on the roof. A bell was also stationed at the top of the right tower of the building. The space surrounding it had small graves that were enclosed by a fence on the church's right side. Behind the church appeared to be a huge locked entryway to what resembled a secret path to a tunnel. Mike had noticed it before but was denied access every time he brought it to Nettie's attention.

He noticed more dogs surrounding the church but these looked more obedient as they remained in a sitting position. These were also not normal dogs. There was some supernatural feature that could be felt coming out from them. Nettie had used her powers to raise them obediently and were now on watch all night and day.

Mike dismissed them and headed for the tall wooden doors that led to the entrance of the church. He opened it quickly as its hinges made a loud squeaking sound. Three sets of mahogany colored benches were seen on either side of the church. No murals or paintings were hung on the bright red walls. Only 4 large mosaic windows were present, two on each side that allowed for very little sunlight in.

Up ahead past the benches appeared a small squared room that had an ancient design on the floor. In its entirety, the church's main walkway was no longer than a normal sized one bedroom apartment. A single chandelier hung from the ceiling above and an altar with a cross could be seen on the opposite side of the church's entry doors.

Mike looked to his right at a door and then to his left where another door swung open.

"Hey there Mike…glad you can make it," spoke Nettie.

Mike slowly laid the unconscious Ron on the hard floor directly below the altar. He then took Nettie's gorgeous figure in. She wore a small sleeveless black top that seemed to barely cover her breasts and a tight black skirt to match. She also looked to be wearing a gold Egyptian necklace and armbands for jewelry. Her short hair was held up with an African style headband, complimenting her beautiful dark skin tone.

"How could I refuse your offer? How could I ever refuse you Agnetta?" replied Mike a little too sarcastically.

Nettie narrowed her gaze at Ron and then smiled back at Mike. "You can't. I'm simply irresistible," she said gesturing with her hands from top to bottom at her figure. "I hope you read the file I gave you, an' read it real well. Between the lines you'll find the signs..."

"You got my stuff?"

"Come on in, honey," she said motioning with her hand to follow.

Mike entered the room and looked around the small space. A tiny desk was right next to the door and a bed was opposite to the entrance. A small bookshelf was also placed at the corner of the room next to the bed. On Mike's left side appeared a single painting of the Virgen Mary and baby Jesus. He looked at it curiously and remembered something he wanted to ask Nettie.

"You know, on the way over I got to thinking about these Dark Souls…if they're so damn dangerous, why didn't the ancients just destroy them?" he questioned.

Nettie quickly turned around to face Mike.

"Because that's impossible. Their power is their immortality. If evil ever manages to implant these immortal souls into its monstrous slaves, can you imagine the carnage an immortal, unbeatable army would bring to the earth? That's apocalypse, Shadow Man. That's the end…"

Mike nodded.

"Okay, okay. So I really got to get to the Dark Souls before the bad guy. I understand that. But where do I find them?"

Nettie pointed outside the door.

"In govi. You may have noticed them when you entered. Those orange, pulsating, beehive looking things with the long sticks through them? Well each govi has been sealed by the most powerful voodoo. Not even the greatest Bokor or Mambo can open them to release the Dark Souls within—believe me I've tried. But a Shadow Man—or something even more powerful just might be able to do it. Release the Dark Soul and take it into yourself. But, be warned…"

She edged closer to him, placed her hand on his chest and whispered softly into his ear.

"The Dark Souls are a pure and ancient evil that possess a power that should not be abused…" she muttered with tremendous caution.

Mike took a quick peek outside the room to look at the govi Nettie was talking about. There were two, one on each side of the altar. They were standing on three large sticks that went through the core of its beehive shaped appearance. It looked as if something was in fact inside of them. Mike had seen them before but never questioned them as he thought they were another of Nettie's strange artifacts.

He then realized something and turned back to face her.

"Hold on. If they've been here all this time, then why just have them out in the open like that? Why didn't you tell me about them before?"

Nettie shook her head.

"I just told you! There is a great evil infused in them and taking the Dark Soul within can be dangerous. Its evil can taint the purest of souls. The reason it is now crucial for you to collect them is to prevent this new danger I'm sensing from using that power to create an immortal army full of monsters from Deadside! Get that through your thick skull! And there's plenty more in Deadside and here in Liveside than those two you see there. Only you can collect them because you have this."

She pointed to the Mask of Shadows engraved on his chest.

"This will allow you to take in the Dark Soul and channel its power."

Looking defeated with eyebrows raised and lowered shoulders, he sighed. "Okay, okay…let's just get this thing over with. You got my stuff?"

Nettie walked over to the small cabinet next to her bed. She opened the top drawer and pointed inside. "Right here."

Mike walked over to the cabinet and saw something familiar. Apart from his trusty handgun was a torn and very worn out teddy bear. He hesitated a bit before picking it up as Nettie stared at the bear intently.

Suddenly a ghostly facial image of a crying young boy with a mouth full of blood could be seen above the teddy bear, causing Mike to drop it on instinct. The boy had dark black eyes and screeched in a high pitch.

"I'm real scared Mikey!" shrieked the boy in an echolike tone. The ghostly image left as quick as it came.

"Jesus! Luke—He's alive! Alive and in pain—I gotta help him!" exclaimed Mike in a beat.

Nettie took a deep breath and rolled her eyes. "He's dead Mike…you know that…"

This was not an uncommon thing for her to see. The bear was a bit like a portkey except it only worked for Mike for some reason. Every time Mike traveled to Deadside using the teddy bear he would see traces of his late brother Luke.

Mike shook his head violently and became engrossed in acute distress.

"I know, but I saw…"

She went over to him and placed her hand again on his chest looking at him with touching eyes.

"It's understandable that you still have strong feelings for your brother. That's why the bear works for you—connecting you to Deadside. Use it now Mike. Go to Deadside and find Jaunty. He's waiting for you at the Marrow Gates. He's got something to show you."

Mike looked down at the teddy bear on the hard floor with a downcast expression. Even through his sunglasses Nettie could see right through him. He nodded slowly.

"Okay…"

"And Mike?"

He took his gaze away from the bear and looked at her.

"Yeah?"

"If you need me, I'll be here. Now go see Jaunty, and get them Dark Souls."

He turned his head back. "What about ginger over there?" pointed Mike to the doorway as he bent over to pick up the teddy bear.

"Leave him here. He's going to accompany you, but not yet. He's useless in his current state. He still needs to understand…certain things."

"You sure he'll be alright? Not gonna piss his panties?" he said with a wry smile.

She smiled. "We'll see. They did put him in Gryffindor. He's gonna need all the courage he can get when crossing to Deadside."

"How will he cross anyways? You aren't gonna kill him, are you?"

"I haven't decided yet," she replied with a grin.

"Well, you better be right about this Nettie. I don't need someone to slow me down."

"I think you'll be surprised at what he can bring Shadow Man. Now go quickly."

Mike nodded and left the room. He took one quick glance at the unconscious Ron and left for the tall wooden doors. Nettie exited the room and saw Mike leave the church. She then kneeled to get a better look at Ron. She studied him for a bit and searched his pockets until she found his wand.

"Interesting..." she said admiring the texture of it.

She stood again and gave the wand a flick to the chandelier above them. The lights went out as the inside of the small church became darker save for the short sun rays through the mosaic windows. She looked around and gave it another flick which turned the lights on the chandelier back on. Turning back towards Ron, she swished it and made him levitate in the air. She moved the wand toward the bed inside the room and laid him across it.

Placing the wand on the cabinet, Nettie studied him.

"I see so much pain in you Ronald Weasley. You have so much fear within you. Such suffering. Your family and friends but…you fear dearly for her—very much so. Coming here was fate. But what role do you play in this prophecy? What can I not see?"

She walked over to him and touched his forehead with only the fingers of her right hand. She closed her eyes and moved her left hand to her temple as she penetrated his mind.

Hundreds of images flashed through Nettie's eyes as she saw flashes of green light, an unknown figure kissing Hermione, his family living in a much poorer looking Burrow, himself casted out from his siblings, and even many more depressing images as she had enough and opened her eyes.

Nettie took deep breaths as she tried to regain her strength from everything she just witnessed. Her power exceeded any normal Seer or Legilimens and was often able to have no trouble seeing into one's future. In the case of Ron, however, he was quite the exception. The images Nettie saw only appeared to be his insecurities bottled away behind his subconscious.

She stared at him for what seemed like an eternity but remembered what needed to be done. She had to send him on his way. It was finally time for him to know the circumstances—except for Hermione's fate. That would have to wait until the time was right.

"Time to wake your ass up Weasley…"

Nettie closed her eyes and muttered a strange incantation under her breath. With a hard clap of the hands Ron awoke instantly. He looked around the unfamiliar room anxiously and slowly began to panic. His breathing picked up as his eyes landed intently on Nettie.

"Where am I? Who are you?" he asked deliberately.

"Don't be alarmed. I'm not gonna hurt you. My acquaintance brought you here."

Ron searched through the room desperately. His training had taught him much about encounters that involved probable capture. There was no way he was going to let his guard down.

"Acquaintance? Tell me where I am…I'm warning you…" he said with a sly dangerous tone.

Nettie smiled and shook her head.

"Well for one you're not in London Mr. Weasley. In fact, you are very, very far from England."

Ron noticed her distinct African accent and looked at her carefully and back around the room. His heart beat faster as he retreated closer to the wall behind him gingerly.

"What do you mean I'm not in London? Where am I? Answer me!" he screamed.

The smile on Nettie's face disappeared.

"You're familiar with my acquaintance correct? Mike? Ring any bell?"

"Where is he?"

"He's gone now. He brought you here to me."

Ron had a sudden realization about what had happened before. He began to try to click the pieces together. He continued watching the surprisingly calm woman in front of him.

"The vortex…it brought me here?"

Nettie went to close the door behind her and stopped in front of it, her back facing towards him.

"No. This place is heavily enchanted. To the naked eye of a normal person, this place does not exist. It is untraceable. Not even the greatest witch or wizard can find this place. There's no in or out. Mike brought you here to…discuss a few things. So, if you're looking for your wand, just look to your left. It's on that cabinet. But I'd suggest not doing anything stupid Mr. Weasley."

She turned away from the door to face him again.

Ron was taken aback. It was almost as if she was reading his mind. He didn't think he was that predictable. But he had to escape. He had no idea where he was or why he was there in the first place. All he could think of was his concern for Hermione. The way he had treated her the last week and in their last moments together. Inside he was crushed. He had to get out. He had kept her in the dark long enough. He quickly picked up his wand from the cabinet and held it in front of him in self-defense.

"Why am I here? How is it that both you and Mike know me? You better start talking," he warned with a menacing expression.

Nettie's face didn't change.

"You have many questions. I have many answers. Fate brought you here to me today Mr. Weasley."

"Yeah bollocks. The only reason I'm here is because of Mike. Where is he?"

"You'll join him shortly. I suppose you also read Deacon's file am I right?"

Ron looked at her with a confused look.

"What?"

"Yes. The one with the five serial killers?" Nettie crossed her arms and began to pace in front of him. He finally understood what she was asking.

"What about it?"

"Well, you're on the job, aren't you? You're trying to catch the killer in London. By what I've been told he's a lot like ol' Jack the Ripper? Know him?"

Ron's face turned to a look of dismay as realization hit him like a bullet. He had been investigating, along with Harry, the files of the five killers the American Auror had told them was stolen. He remembered a private investigator by the name of Thomas Deacon that had written a letter intended for someone along with those files.

"Hold on…bloody hell…y-you're Nettie!" he announced aghast.

She gave a small smile that didn't last long. "Guilty. Oh, and that's more of a nickname actually."

The shocked expression remained on Ron's face. "We read a file on you…but…y-you should be dead…"

Nettie raised an eyebrow. "Oh really? And how'd you figure that?"

"The file showed a picture of an old woman listed more than a hundred years ago…" he said while staring at the hard floor. He looked up to her again swiftly. "Who are you?"

Nettie nodded as if acknowledging his statement. Her eyes moved up to the ceiling as if she was thinking carefully about her answer.

"Well if you must know, this poor woman's beautiful body that you see was indebted to me. She planned to double cross me and paid the full price. So I took her soul and her body."

"What!?" exclaimed a horrified Ron. At this moment, he raised his wand higher in defense and retreated as far as the bed could allow him.

"You have many questions Mr. Weasley. I just hope you understand what you have got yourself into."

"Got into? What the bloody hell are you on about? Go on, c'mon!"

Nettie pondered for a bit about Ron's behavior. "You've been kept in the dark for far too long. Allow me to explain."

"Yeah about bloody time!" he replied annoyingly.

Nettie edged closer to the small table in the room and leaned against it.

"It appears you know me by my real name, Anjenetta. Yes, I'm indeed centuries old. I'm no witch, at least I don't consider myself as one. You see I was born in a time when normal family women were being accused of witchcraft and hung by the neck to die. It was also during a time when slavery was on the rise. The magical world during that time was a very tense place for everyone as well, but especially to someone like me."

"I'm sorry but what exactly does this have to do with anything?"

"You seek answers. I have them. You need to know the root of all evil if you plan on solving this case and getting back to Ms. Granger alive."

Ron looked incredulously at her with much fear in his eyes. "How do you—"

"As I was saying…people of color didn't have the luxury of school or anything for the most part. I was taken away from my family. Little did I know, the unexpected events that took place, the movement of objects with my mind, producing a flame out of thin air, it was all normal for my master. She was a cruel and corrupt woman. She somehow knew I was different. You see Mr. Weasley, you were taught to use magic for good. You know all about dark magic as well and the consequences it can bring. But what you may not know is the magic I hold within my very soul."

The face of confusion remained on Ron's face. "What do you mean? I still don't get how your sobbing history has anything to do with the murders in muggle London!"

"Yes, you don't. I'm no saint Mr. Weasley. In fact, I can become much worse than your greatest fears. That woman, my master, tormented my innocence and gave me a new perspective on life. When she passed, I was just like her. I've seen both worlds change through the course of time. The International Statute of Secrecy, Rappaport's Law, the discrimination, everything about the magical and non-magical I've witnessed."

Ron started to panic again and his nervousness was evident.

"You don't need to fret. I'm not your enemy and I don't plan to hurt you. But you're asking lots of questions and I'm giving you answers."

"You haven't even answered me directly! You're just on about your rough childhood!"

"You lack character Mr. Weasley. Patience is not your forte. Neither is your confidence. That is why you feel useless inside. But by the end, rest assured, you will overcome your demons," she spoke devilishly.

Ron had enough and tried to sit up straighter on the bed. He still felt weak trying to recover from his injuries and was irked at his body's betrayal.

"What the fuck are you on about!? You and Mike are the same! Just banter on! Barmy! Both of you!"

Nettie narrowed her gaze fiercely as her eyes shined the same aqua glow as Mike's for a quick moment. Ron couldn't tell if he'd imagined it. All he could think about was the newfound fear of those glowing eyes that Mike had threatened him with.

His breathing deepened. "What the…what…what are you…"

"Now I understand why Mike is so hesitant of you. You don't listen very well do you?" she asked with a stern expression.

The similarities between her and Mike were extraordinary. Now, Ron couldn't tell who was more frightening.

"Listen! I just woke up in the middle of Merlin knows where and I stunned my girlfriend and let my best friend get hurt. So, I'm sorry if I'm not bloody thrilled for the history lesson here!" he remarked angrily.

She nodded. "Mike mentioned a prophecy, correct?" Nettie asked calmly.

Ron's anger seemed to dissipate with her question. "Yeah, but he didn't say any specifics."

She nodded her head again and began to pace around the room once more.

"I had a vision, a dream if you will. You see Mr. Weasley, I practice another form of magic that you may not be aware of. The non-magical know of its spirituality a little bit better, although many don't believe it to be true. This is more sinister than the dark magic you have heard of."

"What's worse than dark magic?" he inquired.

"Voodoo. I told you I don't consider myself a witch and I stand by that statement. My master was the one who passed on this ancient knowledge. When it was time for her passing, I assumed her position. I am a voodoo priestess Mr. Weasley. I use the most malicious forms of magic, but for the greater good of this world."

Ron's mouth dropped as he continued to look stunned and horrified.

"What…"

"Yes. My power far exceeds any witch and wizard you have encountered," she said with such certainty.

"Bollocks! Prove it!"

"Do you really want me to? I've seen your past, your present and your future. I've seen what you're capable of and that is why you're here. I've had a vision…a dream where you are of great importance to this new prophecy. You see, I sense a new evil already plaguing this world. To prolong my life, certain limitations have been put on me by nature and the ancients. I cannot do much in my current state. That is why Mike does my bidding. He is the next African warrior in line to take the mantle of Shadow Man and has excelled thus far. We knew Voldemort was not a threat just like Gellert Grindelwald. Of course, many died but your best friend, Harry Potter, had to fulfill his destiny. And so now it is time for you to fulfill yours."

Ron began to lower his wand at what she was saying. A hint of anger was shown as she brushed off that many had died in the war including his brother. But her last words caught him off guard. He furrowed his brow, awestruck.

"Me? But...none of this makes sense. Why—"

"I sense evil Mr. Weasley. I have protected this world with Mike from evil forces you cannot even begin to fathom. Imagine your worst nightmares twisted with a ferocious evil tormenting you for eternity. These threats are almost non-existent to anyone. No one in the world knows what we do. Not even Dumbledore or the great wizard Merlin himself knew what we are capable of. You see Mr. Weasley it was fate that you showed up to this very church. You are destined to do incredible things. That is why Mike brought you here…"

Ron raised his eyebrows trying to see if he had heard her right. He was in a church. And Mike had brought him here to comprehend the true extent of his investigation. There was in fact more to this than met the eye. He was destined for something. But the words coming out of Nettie's mouth seemed too farfetched for his liking.

"But I don't understand anything you're saying. You protect the world from outside threats? How? And how is it that no one knows about what you're doing?"

"We maintain order between both worlds. And I'm not talking about the magical and non-magical. I'm talking about the living and the dead. You see, every second spent in the world of the living is almost an eternity spent in the world of the dead. In every moment, malevolent forces try to cross from their world onto ours."

Ron shook his head. "Not possible…"

"Oh yes indeed. This spiritual plane Mr. Weasley, is known as Deadside. This is the world to where every soul goes to when they die…"

"No…"

"And that, that, is where you must follow."


Ron and Hermione's Flat – London, England

"How are you feeling?" Hermione asked.

Harry had been awake for the past two hours from the spell Hermione had performed to help him heal from his injuries. She was sitting by his side the entire time he was unconscious. Upon waking up, all Harry did was stare opposite of Hermione. He just couldn't seem to face her, even with every "How are you feeling?" and "Are you alright?" questions she plagued him with.

The silent treatment was unlike any other. When she would row with Ron, they both suffered in silence but at least they still had the other's company. Harry, on the other hand, seemed desolate—almost pretending like she was a ghost he couldn't see.

She understood that trying to pry information out of him was near hopeless but she kept insisting. After her initial shock to Ron's abrupt departure, she knew Harry needed help. The countless pleas from her weren't enough to convince him to go to St Mungos as he refused for the sake of Ron. She merely gave up and opted to help heal him in her flat. She had read a few medical spells and treatments that she could use to help and it seemed to be working now that Harry had regained some color and was faring a bit better.

After moving him to her bed and doing the enchantments for his treatment, she placed Harry into a deep sleep to help him recover. For some reason, as soon as his eyelids fell she had suddenly broken down and cried for hours because of what had happened the day before. She lost track of time and even when her body was tired of the sobbing, she couldn't stop from hurting inside.

She tried everything to get Harry's attention but he remained laying there, staring at nothing but the empty space away from her. She was happy he was doing better, but it remained that they were in fact, in completely different worlds.

Even after informing Harry that Ginny might soon start asking questions, he still didn't react. He was lost in his own thoughts. Hermione wondered if Harry knew the full extent of where Ron was or what he had gotten himself into.

She inquired again, this time with a more authoritative tone as frustration began to consume her as she was desperate to know what was going on.

"Harry…please…I want to help. I need to know what happened. Harry we've been through so much together. Ron and I—"

At the mention of his name Harry quickly blinked. It was something Hermione only saw a few times after he woke up. His thoughts could not leave his best friend. He had doubted him and even at one point went against Ron. He had been right all along about Mike. So many things about the case were just revolving around in his mind. He couldn't think straight because of how he acted towards him. And where was Ron now?

"Harry none of this is your fault."

He finally turned his head toward her and displayed a face of indifference. She finally had his attention. Hermione became nervous but continued.

"He's your best friend. You've done almost everything together. You're family to him Harry. And to me," she spoke softly with a mournful face. "Please let me help. Please tell me where he is!"

He turned away from her again. Hermione's eyes became watery and soon a tear fell before she rose from her chair and left for the door.

"I can't…" breathed Harry.

Hermione stopped in her tracks and quickly turned to face him. Her facial expression didn't change. In fact, not much had changed for Hermione beside wanting to suddenly escape from it all. It was the first words Harry had spoken that caused her to stay.

She looked at him peculiarly.

"What?"

Harry continued his gaze into the empty space. It was a short while before he spoke again.

"He made me promise not to say a word. At all. About all of this. To anyone."

Hermione could only look at him unbelievably. She wiped her tears fiercely and finally became angered at her best friend.

"This isn't fair Harry. You two make a promise for the sanctity of the Ministry and I can't be involved? Unbelievable…I don't have a clue what's going on! I wake up to find our front porch destroyed and you on the floor with broken bones. And he stunned me! We have no idea where he is! He could be in trouble and in pain or even—"

She stopped herself in time and shook away the abrupt and horrifying thought of him dead.

"And why are you so calm about this? He's your best friend Harry! Please, I want to help. What's so different about this case that I'm not allowed to know?"

Harry didn't seem interested in her little outburst. Although, he couldn't imagine how much of a toll this was having on her. She was still in the dark about everything. Hermione noticed he was seeming not to pay her any mind so she continued.

"I knew something was wrong with him the other night. After everything we've been through. After Voldemort. After—"

"This is different," Harry interfered, continuing to avoid her gaze. "Even I didn't believe him Hermione. And something just hit me as well. We don't give him enough credit. I finally understand where and why he gets those stupid insecurities."

She gazed at him strangely as if caught by surprise at his statement.

"Harry wha—"

"It's because of us."

Hermione furrowed her brow and moved closer to where Harry was staring at to try to face him.

"Think about it. We act surprised when he's right. When something incredible happens because of him, and we react surprised, his proud face falls because he thinks we don't believe in him. Or how about when he does something we don't think he can, and proves us wrong? We put him down. We always have."

Hermione couldn't believe where this was coming from. Of all the things she expected him to say, this was nowhere what she had anticipated.

"Harry—"

"It's my fault all of this even happened." For a moment, a look of anger passed over his face as he blamed himself for the consequences. "I didn't believe him. He's gone because I didn't listen."

"Harry that's not true. Please—"

"HERMIONE! Listen to me for once!" he barked loudly, finally staring at her with rage.

She didn't dare move a muscle for her fear of his tone. Regardless, she didn't think she was capable with the amount of shock she sustained. Her legs couldn't move even if she wanted to.

"I went against my best friend! Do you not understand!? He confided in me and I let him down! He's been jealous of what, my abilities? What abilities? Oh bugger all with the chosen one shit! For our entire time at Hogwarts he's been wanting to be recognized like I have but what for? Most of the time I act without thinking. I'm rash, I lose control of my emotions and I never asked for any of this!" he said with arms out.

He was now sitting up on the bed. He didn't stop there.

"And you…you chastise and criticize him Hermione and he can't seem to catch a break because all his life he's been criticized to be better! Better than his brothers, better than me, and better than you! The thing is, you're brilliant and he thinks he doesn't deserve you! He is constantly reminded that if one day you realize how different you two are intellectually, you'll leave. We give him every reason to have these thoughts Hermione. And I just realized it."

More tears filled Hermione's eyes. Harry's words didn't just catch her by surprise. They carried pain that directly hit her through her chest, making it unexpectedly hard to breath. The redness in her eyes was more prevalent than ever. Never in all the years of knowing him did he ever speak like this. She felt more defenseless with each passing second.

"But Harry—"

He shook his head rapidly.

"But nothing Hermione! I know what you're gonna say. I've seen you two fall in love together. My point of all of this is that we are the reason he has such negative thoughts about himself and his situation. It's not that we think little of him. He's the heart of our trio. He just thinks he isn't good enough because of our reactions to some of things that happen in our lives."

"You know that's not true! I-I try to make every effort to let him know just how much he means to us. To me Harry! Don't you think I know what I've done or said to make him feel bad!?" she countered sharply.

Tears of anger and frustration fell hard with each retort that she sent his way. Harry didn't seem fazed as his angered expression returned.

"It's always been us bringing him down Hermione. Because of those stupid thoughts of his he now feels he somehow needs to prove himself. Yesterday, if you must know what happened—I went against him. I didn't believe what he told me, but I went along with the charade anyways. And you know what!? He was right! Always right! And now he's gone because of me! He's gone. To fuck knows where. Is that what you wanted to hear?"

"Then how could you just sit there and not even feel a tinge of obligation to send someone to look for him!? He may be in trouble! He may need our help! How could you possibly know that he's okay!?"

Harry was glowering at Hermione. He remained tight lipped as he couldn't blame her for what she was feeling. In hindsight, perhaps this was not the best way to approach her about what they were facing. He remained tense but uttered a small reply.

"I don't know."

Both remained fixed on each other breathing rapidly with heated expressions. Hermione's sniffles echoed throughout the room. She looked down at the ground and shook her head in disbelief. She turned to walk away but stopped as she turned the doorknob to exit.

"What do you mean you went against him?" she asked, her back facing him.

Harry's breathing slowed and realized the return of the sharp pain in his abdomen. He grunted and laid back down again to rest. He remembered what Ron warned him about regarding Hermione knowing too much. Mike was now gone but he couldn't afford to make another mistake.

Ron had even gone to the extent of stunning Hermione for her own protection and he couldn't even tell her about anything. Harry thought about the rest of the Auror team and whether everything from Deacon's file should have been shared with them.

His thoughts landed on Ginny and the rest of the Weasley family. He had no plan of action and if Ron didn't show up soon, he'd have a lot of explaining to do. He longed for his friend back. The friend he had tried to stun and subdue because of his inability to control his emotions.

"Harry talk to me," spoke Hermione desperately.

His gaze lifted from empty space to her backside. He could see her trembling as she was trying her hardest not to break once more.

He sighed. "I can't inform you about the case—"

"Not good enough. Why did you go against him?" she asked more fully.

There was no chance that he would break, Harry thought. He now had a duty to protect Hermione and while she may have received the short end of the stick, she had no choice but to remain wandering in the dark.

"If you don't tell me, I will inform the entire Weasley family and Robards of what happened here," she warned.

Harry narrowed his gaze at her. "Are you serious Hermione? What is this? Some kind of blackmail?"

She was silent for a moment.

"I need to know where he is. I will not go mad. And I have your wand so don't even think about trying to stop me. In your current state, standing and walking are out of the question."

She continued sniffling and wiped once more at her eyes to avoid any more tears from falling. She had to compose herself and do something about Ron.

"Brilliant. Fucking brilliant. What are you going to do, huh?"

"Take some time to think. I'm gonna go for a walk. I need to clear my head."

"No! Don't even think about it! You don't understand—"

"I understand perfectly. You won't talk me out of it. If you won't give me answers, then I'll look elsewhere. No one will dare mess with me with how I'm feeling right now."

She opened the door and walked out.

"Hermione wait! Grrghh…" he groaned in pain as he touched his abdomen.

"I'm sorry," she said as she closed the door behind her. She went to the loo to quickly wash her face, picked up her beaded bag and jumper and left for the door.

She could still hear Harry screaming her name. For a moment, she thought about the true extent of this new case they were investigating. She needed answers. Anything to ease her pessimistic thoughts about Ron's well-being.

As she exited she realized the mess outside wasn't yet cleaned up. The door was fixed when she moved Harry to the bed but the porch was still destroyed. The bushes on the sides of the house were also wrecked and ditches were now evident on the front lawn. She noticed the large tree near the gate was also damaged.

She tried to reimagine the events that occurred but nothing but a short battle was played in her head between Harry and Ron. She wondered if Harry went against him out in front of their flat.

"What really happened here Ron?" she said to herself.

A quick look up told her that it would be raining again soon as cloudy skies were still evident. She sighed, turned around to face her flat and pointed her wand at it before giving it a quick swish.

"Reparo!"

Soon, the ditches cleared as dirt and grass were again added in them. The large pieces of bark on the ground returned to the tree's trunk. The bushes had once again blossomed more stems and flowers. And the flat's broken porch pieces soon returned to their original state, fixing the last bit of evidence of the small battle from the day before.

Hermione surveyed her work. Normally she would be happy with her magic but on this occasion, it seemed almost impossible for her to even crack a smile.

They were lucky the enchantments held up as she looked around the area and noticed people walking past the street without so much as a notice. Their flat was very much like a small home, but to any muggles in the area, the flat was simply a deserted bungalow with bushes and trees surrounding it.

Hermione and Ron were told when renting it that locals would see what appeared like a small jungle house and didn't dare come near. It wasn't as big as Ron had wanted his home to be but he would have somewhere to live with Hermione in peace and thought it was perfect for the time being.

She began to walk past the front gate and waited to see the perfect time to come out of the enchantments. Feeling sure, she exited calmly and hugged her body tight as she began making her way down the sidewalk. There was no clear destination for Hermione but knew she needed time to think rationally. Her mind went to wild assumptions as to why Ron resulted in leaving through a strange looking vortex.

The first thing she thought of was Death Eaters and the possible return of Voldemort. It seemed unlikely to her since Harry was surprisingly calm despite shouting about how it was their fault that Ron had left. No, she thought. Voldemort was not a part of this. Ron had also mentioned that the situation was perhaps even bigger than the dark lord. Something else was at play here, but what, she pondered.

She then thought about heading to the ministry and asking Gawain Robards about their case. Harry had seemed intensely hesitant to allow her to go to him or Ron's family. It appeared as if they were working alone or had information they simply refused to explain. If this were true, then there would be a risk of jeopardizing the case.

Hermione was so engrossed in her own little world that she failed to see the small boy on a red tricycle up ahead. Hermione finally came out of her thoughts and reacted too late as she walked into him, causing him to fall.

"Oh my goodness! I'm so sorry! Are you alright?" she said with a surprised and worried tone. She bent over to help him up from the ground.

"Ouch! That weally hurt!" the boy cried out in mild pain. He looked at his elbows and his hands but didn't shed any tears. No scrapes or cuts could be seen on him.

"I'm sorry! I didn't see where I was going. This is all my fault. Are you hurt?" she asked looking concerned.

"I'm okay." He stood on his feet with Hermione's help and dusted off his trousers. "Pwease be careful next time," the boy said as he jumped back on his tricycle.

Hermione gave an unlikely small smile. He didn't look older than 5 or 6 years old and couldn't seem to pronounce the 'r's' when he spoke which she thought was cute. Her smile faltered as soon as she saw his bleeding lip.

"Hey you're bleeding. Here let me help."

The boy seemed alarmed and touched his lip with his finger. "Oh. It's nothing."

Hermione pulled out a small tissue from her beaded bag and offered it to the boy but he brushed her off. He gave a small smile and went on his way.

She stood from her kneeling position and looked at the boy ride away on his tricycle. She wondered where the boy's mother was as she hardly saw small children playing outside on the busy streets by themselves. Something about him made her smile again as he rode away down the sidewalk. She heard him start singing a familiar song with his cute voice.

"Awound and 'wound the fwont lady's porch

The monkey chased the weasel,

The monkey thought 'twas all in fun

Pop! Goes the weasel."

Hermione's smile turned into a perplexed expression as she looked at him funny, but remained grinning.

"A penny to go in the vortex

A penny for such evil,

That's the way the money goes,

Pop! Goes the weasel."

She furrowed her brow at the boy as she walked toward him. At first she thought she didn't hear him correctly. He continued singing and riding away.

"Up and down the London woad,

In and out of the Eagle,

That's the way the money goes,

Pop! Goes the weasel."

For some reason Hermione felt a knot in her chest. The lyrics the boy was singing were all wrong. Not only were they wrong, it was frighteningly like what occurred the day before.

"I've no time to pwead and pine,

I've no time to wheedle,

Kiss me quick and then I'm gone

Pop! Goes the weasel."

The boy turned around the corner of the street with his tricycle and Hermione followed suite. He couldn't be seen as the wall of the tall building on the corner blocked her view. As she turned the corner she didn't expect to see what she saw.

Emptiness. No one was on the sidewalk save for a few people across on the other side. There was no sign of the boy or his red tricycle as Hermione looked around like crazy.

"Where'd he go?" she asked herself in total bewilderment. She continued to gaze around the street in all directions to nothing but muggles minding their business.

"That song. Weasel? Vortex? Why was he singing it that way? And where's his mum?" she questioned.

On the rooftop of the building on that corner appeared a man overlooking the street below. He saw Hermione bend down to examine something on the floor. At this moment, he retreated away from the edge of the rooftop.

Hermione looked up to the building after finding some bright fresh drops of blood that were left behind on the sidewalk. She remembered back to when she had first reconciled with Ron when he was just called in for this new investigation. She remembered seeing a similar trail of drops in the ministry. But nobody was around. And the little boy was gone.

She stood, took one more look around with a confused face, hugged her body even tighter and continued walking. There was a coffee shop a few blocks away that she was now headed to. She took one last glance back but there was still no sign of the boy or his tricycle.

She stopped in her tracks at the sound of a faint echo of laughing children in the direction of the blood drops. It was very distinct. The laughs and cries sounded a lot like in those horror movies she refused to watch with her parents when she was little. She turned away quickly feeling uneasy and walked without so much as a look back.

Above the building still stood the man with the evil blue eyes and continuing spill of blood from his mouth. His cane-sword remained gripped with both hands, hilt facing up. A smile was cracked from his bright red lips.

"The plan is proceeding as expected," he said in his sinister echoed voice. He turned away from looking at Hermione and swung his sword back and forth.

"Pop!" he said as he hit the sword with great force onto the rooftop. A few feet away was the little boy's tricycle on its side with a wheel spinning uncontrollably. A daunting look came across Legion's face. "Goes the Weasley."

Chapter Text

August 27, 2000 (3:48 pm)

Down St. Underground Station – London, England

The sounds of silence radiated through the dimly lit room before the loud thunder threatening above shook the wary Jack out of his thoughts. The abandoned underground tube station made it loudly audible as the puttering sound of rain continued echoing through the sewer pipes. Like always, he had been in what he considered his private study, writing and documenting in his diary the very sick cognition in his mind.

To him, it had felt like he had lived ten lifetimes during his stretch in the darkness. The day will be forever planted in his mind, the inconceivable circumstance that was shown to him on that occasion. The day when his master came to him with an opportunity unlike any other. Life after death was now possible for him.

To believe he had questioned such a man. No, a deity. He couldn't believe how close he had been to eternal suffering and instead was given a chance to obtain what he had always wanted. The bloody sacrifice he had invoked to Mary Kelly and himself on that day was certainly not his last as four more victims also succumbed to his knife since his return.

He flipped the pages in his journal back to the date when he was first consumed by the darkness. November 9, 1888—the date his master had descended from hell. So much had changed since then. Upon returning from that heinous place he had to find a new refuge since the old sewers were now overrun by a new tube station.

Down Street Station, however, was perfect. He could continue stalking and luring women into the dark with empty promises and lies. To ultimately bring them to their demise for his master's enjoyment. He was told to continue with his murders, a symbol of what was to come when it was time for the Five to open the way. The way for his master's immortal and monstrous army.

It had been tricky, however, to continue murdering women with the constant new surveillance by two individuals he was warned about. He had caught Ron Weasley and Harry Potter in his abandoned underground station entrance apparently looking for any evidence on him. It appeared the Shadow Man his master spoke of was already ahead of the race and provided some important details to them both—about none other than himself. For the time being, he remained hidden in his new hideout to avoid ruining his master's incredible plan for Armageddon.

How things had changed, he thought. Nature, technology, even the meaningless people above the abandoned station he now housed. He read plenty about history and architecture, especially after coming back into the world of the living. He was thirsty for knowledge and knew he had to fit in to the new society he was now thrown in.

This abandoned station was perfect for him. There was no in or out for anyone but him. He had made himself a similar room to when he was in 1888. A dark room with hundreds of passageways leading to the underground station and the sewers. He had studied and traveled every single one of them since his return.

The room was dark, unkempt, and reeked of a foul odor from the sewage waters. Like the room in 1888, a single wooden table and chair were placed in the middle of the room lit by a small gas lamp. Hundreds of pieces of parchment and torn pieces of paper were scattered all over the room. It was filthy, yet he felt comfortable in his new makeshift home. It was almost an exact replica as his old hideout. Even his architectural drawings of his master's asylum were stuck scattered on the four green brick walls of the room. It looked like a mad scientist's lair.

Save for a door that led out to the sewers and the rest of the underground station, there was something else, something terrifying beyond belief in the room. It was a display appearing to be the top half of an old dried up cachectic corpse, clearly having died from suffering. It had no eyes, teeth or tongue and was attached to the wall opposite of the door. The abdomen was split open as its ribcage and organs were also missing. A strange looking mechanical device was implanted inside the gaping hole instead. The half corpse was hung on the murky wall by cables that closely resembled human nerves.

The intimidating structure was now overlooking Jack the Ripper's back as he continued writing in his forsaken journal. A hard knock on the door made him jump up instantly raising his giant butcher knife in defense. He gulped nervously and had a panicked expression. He knew that there could only be one person capable of knocking on his door. He heard more hard knocking, this time louder than the last.

"Who's there!? How did you find this place!?" he questioned loudly.

There was nothing heard but the continued sounds of raindrops hitting the sewer pipes, further increasing his anxiety. His body trembled, but be didn't feel fear, only anticipation. The small seconds of waiting were driving him mad.

The door swung open on its own and revealed the evil man with the piercing blue eyes and sword-cane. His mouth continued pouring blood, exposing the man's evil heart. He entered without a word and looked around the dimly lit room at the tall drawings of his asylum.

"Master…" said Jack as he lowered his butcher knife, got on one knee and bowed his head as if kneeling for royalty.

"You've been expecting me. Stand," said Legion with his sinister echoed voice that resonated menacing shrieks around the room.

Chills were sent down Jack's spine every time he heard his master speak. He promptly got back up on his feet and faced the wicked man.

"It's time. You know what to do," he spoke.

Jack nodded.

"Yes master."

"Good. Go forth then. For we are many."

Jack kneeled once more and bowed his head.

"For we are many!" he exclaimed.

As he looked up while still on one knee, Legion was gone.


August 27, 2000 (10:03 am)

The Church on the Hill – Bayou Paradis, Louisiana, United States

So much had been dropped on him in the last few hours. Ron was sitting over the edge of the small pier where Mike stationed the boat. Nothing could have prepared him for the horrors he was told only moments ago. Everything Nettie had explained to him in detail was unimaginable. He continued to rub his eyes in frustration as her words were repeated in his head.

"I hope you understand how fragile the world is," Nettie spoke, startling Ron out of his thoughts.

He jumped and turned quickly, but remained calm when he saw it was only her. She had allowed him to explore the small area around the church and the trail Mike had used to carry him. After a bit of hesitation from his part, he figured that she was not a threat. She had accompanied him around the church and let him walk back down to the pier with one of her dogs following him.

"You know what you must do. As difficult it is to comprehend everything, it is your destiny."

Ron looked down, contemplating what to say. What could he say? He was plundered with information. Yet, it did make some hint of sense. Not his role in how huge his case really was, but the rest of the mumbo jumbo he had heard first. She had proof to back every retort, every attempt to shoot down her wild delusions. No, he thought. It had to be all true.

"But why me? That's what I don't understand! Of all people, anyone, even Harry! He's the one that does the saving the world thing, not me. I'm just…Ron. I may have helped him defeat Voldemort in the past but even then, I didn't do much."

Nettie walked close to the edge of the pier.

"You continue to doubt yourself. It was the decision of the ancients to choose you in aiding Mike fulfill his. There is much more about this prophecy that even I don't quite understand but it must be you. The Dark Souls are far too powerful for Mike to handle without losing himself in the process. We can't underestimate this evil continuing to scourge this world. The five mortal men you seek are the root of this new evil. We brought you here for this very reason. It's time for you to prove your worth. Not to me, your friends, or anyone else. But to yourself Ron."

He turned back around away from her. He took a minute to admire the change of scenery from England. The waters were murky, yet calm. Algae was evidently present on the water as well as on the trees sprouting from underneath. He then gazed at the red sky and noted how different it was in comparison from his own home. He closed his eyes. The sound of buzzing dragonflies and ducks quacking were heard in the distance.

Upon opening them again, he still felt Nettie's presence behind him. He was told he had a choice. Normally in situations like these no one gets to have a say. However, Ron was intrigued. He had learned so much in the few hours he had spent with Nettie about voodoo and the history that shaped his world. Not even his time in Hogwarts could compare to the knowledge he now possessed. He wanted to follow this. After all, it was his and Harry's case. But how would the rest of his team react to the news? What would Harry say? And Hermione? He turned to face Nettie again.

"What about Hermione? And Harry? I can't just ignore them. They'll ask questions. My boss, Gawain Robards, he'll ask questions. They can help, I know they can," said Ron.

"You only think they can, but what they can't do is what you're destined to accomplish. This is no easy task. If I wanted, I could have entrusted this burden to some other asshole pretending to be heroic. You know about my power already and how serious this must be to have me be useless in the world of the dead. No, it must be you Ron. I trust you know by now that not just anyone can cross between both worlds. No amount of any elixir of life or spell can bring the dead back to life. Even the resurrection stone is useless. That is the law of nature, a balance must be maintained," she said.

"But I need them with me!" argued Ron. "I can't do this alone. If Mike really needs my help and what you say is true about Deadside, I'll need them! They needed me in the past. I need them now for the future."

Nettie sighed and shook her head. There was no convincing Ron to take this responsibility on his own. She thought for a while about the consequences if he were to have his friends aiding him. She rubbed her chin and looked at the still water when something suddenly came to her mind. She looked back to face him.

"Know that your friends are at great risk with this. They cannot go with you to that damned place. Even I, as useless as I am, cannot go. Still, perhaps there may be a way for them to aide you in your quest. Not the Aurors in your division. But the Potter boy may be of some help."

Ron looked at her with a surprised face.

"What about Hermione? I can't keep doing this to her. I fucking stunned her because of Mike's warning! I've lied and been avoiding her this past week. Just think about how she'll be when I get back. If I even get back. She doesn't deserve any of this. I-I don't deserve her…but she needs to know!" he pleaded her with convincing eyes.

Nettie stared intently at Ron's fierce gaze. There were details that she continued to omit from him during their discussion that pertained to Hermione. She began walking away from the pier.

"Ms. Granger's fate is in great danger as well as every living soul on this earth. I'm sorry it had to come to you taking action against her, but it's necessary. The more people that know about us, the more dangerous it will be. The reason we aren't disclosing anything to her is for her own safety. Even if it will mean losing her love. Would you have me sacrifice every soul on this earth for her?"

Ron wasn't about to give up trying to convince her. Nettie continued to walk away and was soon getting close to the trail.

"No…but…I need her. She has always believed in me. I can't fail her. I won't. Not now."

She stopped and turned around once more. She held a keenly look at him. Her eyes shined that aqua glow once more for a quick moment.

Ron gulped.

"Are you sure you can protect her? You might not even be able to protect yourself…"

"I can and will. With my life if necessary. She means everything to me and more. If it means keeping her safe, safe under my hands and Harry's…then I'll do it," he said boldly.

Nettie cracked a smile. But it wasn't a pleasant smile. This smile carried satisfaction and a hint of depravity. Such deceit that Ron wasn't yet aware of her true motives. She moved her gaze to the murky waters beside him.

"Time passes. People move…like a river's flow. It never ends. The flow of time is always cruel. Its speed seems different for each person. But no one can change it. A thing that doesn't change with time is a memory of younger days. It's something that grows over time. A true friendship. A feeling in the heart that becomes stronger over time. The passion of friendship will soon blossom into a righteous power and through it, you will know which way to go. A childish mind will turn to noble ambition; young love will become deep affection. The clear water's surface reflects growth."

Ron moved his gaze in the direction Nettie was staring at and noticed the water was no longer murky, but clear. He stared in awe at the sudden change and turned back to face her again. He caught her smiling. He turned again to face the water. Except now it was no longer clear. It appeared dark and dirty, just how it was before.

"Come then. We must act quickly. I can already tell there is no changing your mind. Your love for Ms. Granger might just prove to be either good motivation or your downfall. I think I know of a way for this to work," she said, motioning with her hand for him to follow.

Ron looked back once more at the murky waters before getting up quickly to follow her. They headed back up the trail to the church.

"I do hope you recall the riot in the Texas prison with three of the five serial killers," she said.

Ron frowned.

"I actually forgot about that. It's been almost two weeks, hasn't it? I would have thought muggle authorities try entering since last week."

"They did. Here in America we have a muggle police division called S.W.A.T. and another more advanced military group called the National Guard. Both tried to subdue the inmates and take back control of the prison. Let's just say the three prisoners we're interested in have been much more active since then..." Nettie spoke, looking very much pissed off.

Ron appeared surprised at her reaction.

"What happened?" he asked.

She shook her head as she raised her arms in frustration and let them fall to her sides.

"They're all dead. Hostages too. Like I said, time is not on our side. And you and Mike still have one hundred and twenty Dark Souls to find. That's before you two can even deal with those sons of bitches."

Ron remembered what she had mentioned about the five killers of his case and was in deep thought about the ongoing prison situation. It appeared that muggle authorities did in fact enter, although with no such luck.

"When did this happen?" he continued asking.

"A few days ago. The three serial killers have formed an invisible blockade around the prison. Yes, it's some form of voodoo. It's the aura of the voodoo they use that led MACUSA and your Auror Department to take notice in the first place of the murders they committed. It feels strongly similar to the death curse that you know."

"Bloody hell…so that's why—"

"Yes. As you can see, MACUSA will attempt to enter next as well. We need to hurry and put an end to their shit. But as you and Mike currently are right now, it's useless. Their hearts have been tainted by the evilness of the Dark Souls. They're immortal power is too great for you both to take on right now. Confronting them will only bring certain death. Mike cannot die so it'll just be a never-ending cycle. And you can. I don't want this to be for nothing. Only he can take them down with his shadow powers, but after finding every govi in Deadside and taking the Dark Soul within. The Five will harness this power if you two don't act soon. You must go quickly Ron."

He nodded in acknowledgement. It appeared that Nettie would send him on his way back to his flat after all. He knew the plan and was ready to take drastic action. He would inform Harry and Hermione about everything. He required their help. And since time was not on their side, he needed to act fast.

"I've already told you my conditions. If my friends can help me, I can help you," he said.

The church came to view.

"Let's send you on your way then. I'll tell you what you must do."


August 27, 2000 (3:58 pm)

Muggle Coffee Shop – London, England

Hermione continued gazing at the heavy rainfall through the coffee shop window. She specifically liked sitting near the window as it often brought comfort to her, but it seemed almost impossible on this occasion. She felt somber and still couldn't quite get over what happened some time ago.

She had stumbled onto a small boy riding carelessly on a tricycle that suddenly disappeared with the turn of a street corner. There was nothing but complete emptiness, almost as if he had vanished into thin air. Then she saw the trail of blood again. She thought it made a pattern, but couldn't quite understand why there would be fresh drops if no one was around. The little boy also seemed taken aback when she told him he was bleeding from his lip. It's as if he didn't want her to see the blood. It all felt too strange, thought Hermione.

Then there were the sounds of laughing children, presumably laughing at her. Hermione had tried to get rid of the vile and creepy sounds from her head but no matter how hard she tried, she could still hear them. Nobody was around—she had to remember that. She couldn't get lost in her own little world, suddenly tormented by her mental thoughts. She had to maintain a cool head, but with everything going on between her and Ron, it just seemed impossible.

She came to a decision after spending a few hours vicariously thinking in the coffee shop. She would not go to the Weasley's nor to the Auror office in regards to the case, but she wasn't about to give up trying to convince Harry to relinquish more information. He said that it was primarily his fault that Ron left, but where did he go? Where could he have gone?

There was a massive secret behind this case that she just had to find out for herself. It appeared only Harry and Ron knew about it, because if the rest of the team knew, then Harry would have definitely called them in to search for Ron. No, she thought. She would find him on her own terms. And not just find him. She was already thinking about ways to confront him about what he had done to her.

Their relationship had reached lows in the past, namely the time he had walked out on her during the horcrux hunt, but this was different. She began questioning if they were even right for one another. She tried so hard not to overanalyze the circumstance but his behavior made it excruciatingly difficult to endure much more. She was already tired with the shouting and the fighting and lying only added more fire to the flame.

Perhaps their flare was gone, she thought. Perhaps all they needed was some real time to themselves to rediscover what they once were. She believed that 7 years of friendship would be enough to sustain them through the most difficult of times, yet there she was, sitting in a coffee shop all on her own gazing at the rain fall through the window.

There was something about the rain that reminded her of him. Rain was unpredictable, just like Ron. It could be peaceful and astonishing one moment, then suddenly turn into an uproar and become passionate. Hermione liked that about him though. She had stopped trying to figure him out as time after time he continued to amaze her. She truly didn't deserve his love, she thought. Even Harry implied a similar thought with his outburst.

Hermione had spent the first few minutes trying to swallow the massive pill that he had given her. She wondered if he did in fact have a point about being too critical. Then she was reminded of Ginny's words about what Fred had thought of them together. Her argument to Harry was that her reactions and accusations to Ron's abilities were not intended to inflict pain. Maybe they did without her realizing it.

The tone of surprise. She shouldn't have to be anymore, but she didn't mean to react negatively. He had grown into a fine young wizard, but nonetheless there she was, continuing to critique him. The two sides of her thinking just wouldn't leave her mind. There were so many things to figure out, but her walk failed to clear her head. Instead, it just made her feel even more awful and morose.

She sighed and tried not to reciprocate the clouds' tears. She sniffled a bit but remembered she was in public and didn't dare break down in there. She was stronger than that. A decision had been made to go back and talk it out with Harry. She had to show him that he could trust her. That was never a problem, but it seemed this time, this specific investigation made it almost impossible.

Hermione had to find out what it was about this case that troubled Ron the last couple of days. As soon as the storm subsided, she would be on her way, she thought. She wouldn't turn to anyone else for the sake of their investigation and their secrets. Although she had to find a way to convince Harry to speak. And she knew of only one way. An unethical choice. But she had to do it for Ron. Harry had warned her about leaving, so this somehow still indirectly involved her.

Hermione was also afraid to go to her parents. This was one time where going to them only caused more problems, but where else could she go? She didn't want to have a repeat of the horcrux hunt. Even though it seemed right now she was enduring something similar. Ron had left through a strange vortex and Harry had ended up badly hurt on the ground. She couldn't bring herself to believe Ron had hurt Harry. Then again, he had perhaps hurt her even more than the wounds Harry had faced. Anything was possible.

And then there was that song the little boy had been singing. Pop goes the weasel. It couldn't be coincidence that he sung it in a way that paralleled the events that occurred while she was unconscious. And to disappear so suddenly without so much as a parent in sight. No, something was terribly wrong.

The coffee shop's bell tingling shook Hermione out of her thoughts for a quick moment. She looked toward the front door and saw a man entering with wet clothes. Briefly, everyone in the coffee shop looked at the disheveled man's appearance.

"So sorry! Forgot my umbrella," he addressed out loud while hanging up his coat on the hangar pole.

Hermione saw some of the employees roll their eyes at having to clean the wet, puddled floor. The man walked toward the counter and shot a quick smile at Hermione on his way. She returned his smile, but it faltered quickly. He was an older man, looked to be in his mid to late 30's and sported an old-fashioned chevron mustache. He wore out-fashioned jeans and a white long sleeve shirt with two green stripes around the bicep area. Hermione also noticed his short, black hair parting down the middle—a classic look from an older era.

She moved her attention away from the man and back out the window to the rain. She sighed once more, but knew what she had to do. She would attempt at least once more in convincing Harry to tell her about their case, although she knew he wouldn't let up easily. A few drops of veritaserum would do the trick, but she contemplated on the morality of using it. It wasn't right. Her perseverance, however, said otherwise.

Harry would always be her best friend and knew this wasn't okay in the least. But with each passing hour worrying about Ron's well-being, she needed to act. Her mind then wandered to what her parents would think about this. She had made a promise to them that nothing like Voldemort's rise to power would ever happen again and dearly feared for their life. Ron had mentioned in his last moment that this was probably bigger than the dark lord himself. She didn't know what to expect. What new evil could possibly be worse than him?

Certain loud voices shook Hermione out of her thoughts again.

"Sir, I'm afraid you don't have enough for the coffee," said the cashier.

The man looked at her with a saddened expression.

"Please ma'am! I beg you! I need the rest of my money to catch the tube to visit my sister. I wanted to sit down for some coffee while the rain eases off. Please can you let me off this one time? I swear I'll come by tomorrow to pay for it, honest!"

Hermione saw the cashier shake her head.

"Sorry sir, but I can't. It's store policy."

The man groaned in disappointment as he walked away shamefully. Hermione saw his gloomy face and stood immediately.

"Here," she said handing the man a few pounds to pay for his coffee.

The man gazed at the money and then back at her with bright eyes.

"Oh no! Young lady, I can't. It's my fault for forgetting my wallet. I can't accept," he said, waving no with his hands.

Hermione smiled.

"It's okay, really. Take it. I'm probably gonna spend it on something useless anyway. Please, I insist," she urged.

The man continued to look at her skeptically.

"That's so kind of you! But are you sure? I don't mean to impose…"

Hermione gave a short laugh and placed the money in the man's hand.

"I won't take no for an answer. Please, go buy yourself that coffee," she said, beaming.

The man looked delighted and gave a short laugh followed by a grateful expression.

"Well if you insist! I can't thank you enough," he replied as he made his way back to the counter.

Hermione saw him leave and continued smiling at the good act she did. She retreated to her small table by the window and suddenly felt consumed by sadness once more. For those few seconds, she had forgotten about her problems. The rain didn't seem to let up as it continued falling forcefully. She looked up at the dark clouds and for some reason remembered they were the same shade as the day before.

The uneasy day she found Harry on the floor injured beyond belief and her love leaving her through some makeshift vortex. The tears were evident once more in her eyes and no matter how hard she tried to stop them from escaping this time, she just couldn't anymore.

She wasn't making any noises, but to her, the tears hitting the table sounded like the rumbling roars of thunder vibrating outside. She rubbed her eyes once more and failed to notice the figure standing behind her. The man with the thick chevron mustache had come back, drink in hand. He coughed a bit loudly.

"Ahem, pardon me. I know it's not any of my business, but are you alright? I knew it wasn't okay to accept your money…" he said looking down with guilt.

Hermione did a quick turn to see him and faced the window again promptly to avoid the man's gaze. She gave a small laugh and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She noticed through the window's reflection that the man could still see her face. She whispered a quiet "bloody hell" under her breath, cursing the window. She gave another small laugh and turned, hoping not to give the impression that she was in tears a few seconds ago.

"Oh no! It's quite alright. And I'm fine thank you. It's just…I remembered something and I guess I just became overwhelmed with emotion," she said a little too quickly, trying to smile it off.

The man still gave her a rather genuine concerned look.

"Hmmm…okay. I know this seems silly, but maybe I can offer an ear for a few minutes? I want to repay you for the coffee. Only if you want that is, I respect a woman and her privacy. It's just…it's not every day a young pretty girl comes to a coffee shop to escape her thoughts."

Hermione was surprised at how well the man could read her and softly blushed at his compliment.

"I'm so sorry for being rude. My name's John. John G. Peirce. And thank you again for the money. Not many good people nowadays it seems."

Hermione smiled.

"It's no problem. I'm happy to help. And thank you for asking if I was okay. I am, really. Just needed some time for myself. Oh, and I'm terribly sorry! I'm Hermione," she said offering her hand, looking slightly embarrassed.

He took it and shook her hand rigorously.

"Hermione? Hermione Gra—I mean great! What a great and lovely name! Truly unique! Nice to meet you too! Let me guess…could this unsettled feeling be about a certain boy?" he asked gleamingly.

Hermione looked down with crimson cheeks and grinned. John looked relieved that she hadn't noticed his accidental slip.

"I guess I'm quite obvious. But I suppose you're correct."

John smiled at correctly identifying her problem.

"Ah, thought so. Umm…if you don't mind?" he asked while pointing to the seat opposite of her.

"Oh please," insisted Hermione.

John thanked her as he took a seat opposite of her and looked out the window at the pouring rain. The very same storm that brought him out of his thoughts in his hideout. He looked at her and smiled.

"I can't thank you enough for the coffee, really. It's great stuff here. Probably good enough to help ease some boyfriend troubles."

Hermione chuckled and drank a bit out of her cup.

"You got that right," she said with a smirk.

John nodded.

"So your boyfriend? What did he do wrong? I figure it's always a man's fault for a woman's troubles. We'll never learn," he said with a shake of his head.

"Well…" started Hermione. She felt a bit hesitant to continue the conversation with this man she just met only moments ago. It was odd talking to a complete stranger about her troubles. She also figured maybe this is what she needed to think things clearly. There was also something trusting about this man that she sensed. He looked scholarly and full of knowledge. Hermione's father always did tell her that the best knowledge was found in the strangest of places.

"He didn't necessarily do something wrong. He…well…he left," she spoke, looking down at her cup wistfully.

John gave her a confused look.

"He left? Where to?"

"I'm not sure," responded Hermione, turning her gaze outside.

He followed her gaze out the window and moved it back at her brown grief-stricken eyes.

"I see. I'm sorry to hear that," he muttered, showing a heartening expression.

Hermione gave a small smile, having trouble to look him in the eye for fear of crying again.

"Thank you."

John tilted his head to the side to catch her attention.

"You know, the one's that love us, really never leave us. Without knowing all the details, it may be hard to see it from their perspective. Oftentimes, I have found myself contemplating over what could have been or why something never came to be. As I got older I thought to myself, 'what would I have done if I were in their shoes?' There's no real way of knowing. And that's where the heavy thinking commences. The thought of them elsewhere and not in your in arms. It's inevitable, I think. To come so far and acquire so little. That's just the way things are sometimes."

Hermione was astonished at what the man was saying. It's as if he was reading her mind. That was nearly exactly how she felt at that given moment.

He continued.

"But still, life goes on. All we can do is pick up where we left off and continue living, for ourselves if not for them."

Hermione nodded in agreement.

"There's a big chance I'll see him again. I know I will. I have a strong feeling. It's just…this was so sudden. Lately it feels like I've been kept in the dark about everything," she said.

No, you haven't been kept in the dark. Not yet. Not even close. John thought.

"I know that feeling," he said. "You just grow tired of the lies. I'm sorry. No one deserves to be going through that. I hope you can find your peace."

"That's real kind of you John. Thank you. You seem to know a lot about this sort of thing," she said giving him another smile.

John smiled too and looked down sheepishly.

"I once was a young bloke myself. Full of inspiration and a thirst for knowledge. Nothing could have prepared me for love, however. It's such a strange and wonderful feeling."

"Does that mean you're married?" asked Hermione. "I'm sorry if I'm being too intrusive…"

John took a sip of his coffee and waved his index finger side to side, signaling a 'no.'

"Oh, not at all! I don't mind! But no, I was never married. Like you, I also had someone I cared dearly for. A woman. My great love. She was…taken from me," he said looking down at his hands with a pained look on his face.

"Oh my goodness, is she alright?" Hermione asked concernedly.

He shook his head. "Unfortunately, she passed on from this world."

Hermione raised her hand to cover her mouth in shock. "Oh no! I'm so sorry! My condolences…"

The man offered her a small smile and thanked her. He looked out the window with another smile as if remembering fond memories of them together.

"Her name was Marie Nicholas. It's funny, the rain always reminds me of her. She could be loud one minute and the next…absolute peacefulness. She was wonderful."

Hermione couldn't contain her smile as small tears reached the corner of her eyes. The man had just mentioned exactly how she felt about Ron. She was just astounded at how well he was able to read her. Talk about coincidence, she thought. She suddenly gave a small laugh and shook her head. John grinned and tilted his head to the side in confusion, trying to figure out what was funny.

"I'm sorry, it's just…the way you talk about her—that's the way I feel about Ron," said Hermione.

"Ah, so he's got a name. Ron, you say? Well I hope he comes back to you. Whatever he did, I'm sure there is a proper explanation for it. And if not, remember what makes you happy. Whether it's with him or without him—that is up to you," he said while taking one last sip of his coffee.

"I'll keep that in mind," spoke Hermione softly.

"Well, I think I better be on my way. I've got to visit my sister. It was a pleasure talking to you. And thank you for the coffee. You're a real wonderful person Hermione. And have an even more lovely name! Hermione…ah yes…very lovely," he said with such affection.

Hermione felt her ears get warm and blushed at his compliment again. He stood up, and she followed suite. He extended his hand and she shook it once more.

"Take care, Hermione. I hope everything works out for you. Until next time," he said.

"You too John. It was a pleasure."

He smiled once more before walking away to pick up his coat and exit the shop. Hermione watched him walking away nonchalantly across the street.

"Hmm…Marie Nicholas? Where have I heard that name before? I know it sounds familiar," she said scrunching her eyebrows. She continued to gaze at John's backside until he turned a corner down the street.

Hermione shrugged her shoulders and drank the last bit of her coffee. While gazing out the window, it became apparent to her that the rain would not subside anytime soon. She decided to simply walk to a nearby alley and apparate home.

After talking to the man, she felt a bit better about her situation but knew she still had something to do. An idea suddenly came to her mind that wouldn't require any veritaserum. She rummaged through her beaded bag and found what she was looking for. It was an extendable ear George had given her. She nodded to herself and placed it back in her beaded bag. Hermione stood to pick up her jumper and quietly exited the coffee shop.

While walking in the opposite direction of John she failed to notice him staring at her walking away from around the corner. He had an evil look to his eye and proceeded to follow her, keeping a good distance away from being seen.

"Yes…such a lovely name indeed…"


August 27, 2000 (4:12 pm)

Ron and Hermione's Flat – London, England

Harry looked at himself through the mirror in the bedroom. He lifted his shirt to survey his injuries from the day before but for some reason they were no longer evident. After shouting his lungs out to prevent Hermione from leaving, he had to stop because of his abdominal pain. He had tried to get up and move but his injuries were too severe to allow him.

All he could do was lay in bed, contemplating about Ron's whereabouts and what Hermione's next course of action would be. This had gone on for several hours until Harry felt a strange sensation out of the blue. He felt well—better, possibly new and improved.

At first he thought it had been Hermione's healing spell, but it couldn't have worked that quickly. That's when he jumped out of bed and surveyed his body of any indication of his unexpected health improvement.

"I'm fine. But how? I couldn't even sit up moments ago," he said with a confused look on his face.

He turned his gaze away from the mirror as he heard the sound of someone apparating outside the front door.

"Hermione," he spoke.

Fixing his shirt, he opened the bedroom door and was about to storm out the flat when someone stopped him in his tracks, leaving him completely stunned. Harry wasn't prepared to see what he saw as his jaw dropped. It was Ron.

"Ron!? What happened! Where have you been!?"

Ron smiled and went to over to give his best mate a manly hug. Harry gave him a soft punch to his chest.

"My gosh mate, you're alright! But what about Mike? And the vortex? Where did it lead to? What the hell happened!?" asked Harry, who couldn't stop pestering him with hundreds of questions.

Ron stood there with a half grin as he rubbed the back of his head. He ignored him to take a good look around the living room.

"Where's Hermione?" he asked.

Harry's astonished face turned into a frown as he looked down. His joy dissipated as he remembered she had left a few hours ago.

"Umm…she left. She said she needed to clear her head for a bit. I don't actually know where she went, but she's bloody torn about the whole thing mate. She wouldn't stop asking questions! She saw almost everything! Even I almost broke..."

"Asking a lot of questions? A bit like you are now then?" Ron said with a smirk.

Harry gave him another punch, this time in the arm that only made Ron laugh much more.

"Enough of that. What happened? I was on that bloody bed of yours for hours after you left. Hermione helped of course, except…I don't know. I don't think I've ever seen her this sad. It was a bit like the horcrux hunt if I'm honest."

Ron's demeanor changed completely as his smile turned into that of deep concern. His face showed that he suddenly remembered something and looked a bit worried. He turned away from Harry and was about to walk back outside. Harry grabbed his arm to stop him.

"Hey wait! Where are you headed off to now? You had us worried! Where have you been?"

Ron turned back around to face him. Harry saw that his face looked much different than usual. There was something off about him.

"Sorry mate. It's just…Hermione might be in danger. You're not gonna believe this. Our case, the serial killer in muggle London…I don't even know where to begin. It's so much more than what we thought it was. So much more. I thought we had solid details with the files Mike gave me but no. Harry you don't understand…"

Ron displayed a face full of terror and shock. It was almost as if he was traumatized by something he saw. Harry looked at him fixedly.

"What is it? What happened?"

"Where's Hermione Harry!? She must have told you something! She needs to be here. She needs to know!"

Harry furrowed his brow in bewilderment.

"Ron, what happened that's got you all paranoid? Seriously mate you look like you've just seen Aragog. Talk to me."

Ron maintained a serious and panicked expression while looking around the flat. It was almost as if he was searching for someone that could be overhearing their conversation.

"Harry you don't understand! Hermione must know about everything! There's so much more that I've learned. I have a feeling she has a role in the prophecy as well!"

"What do you mean you're gonna let Hermione know? What about what Mike said? And you mean to tell me you found out more about this prophecy? Bloody hell Ron, tell me something! Anything! What have you got?" spoke a distressed Harry.

Ron shook his head and placed his hands on Harry's shoulders a bit too harshly.

"Forget about what Mike said! I'll tell you what happened, but I need Hermione here. Did she tell you when she was coming back?"

Harry was taken aback and shook his head.

"No. She took my wand too. I was literally too weak to even sit up straight. But look," he motioned to his body looking up and down. "I'm all better now. Better than before. Like out of nowhere, I just felt excellent. How's that even possible? I should've been in St Mungo's."

"Listen, I'll explain that later. Right now, we have to go and find Hermione!"

"So something did happen to me! What was it? And it's already been a couple of hours since she left. I'm sure she'll be home soon. But seriously, don't just brush me off like nothing happened to you when you went through the vortex. C'mon Ron talk to me! We can talk to Hermione when she arrives. The suspense is fucking killing me you git!"

Ron thought for a quick minute, looking hesitant. He finally let go of Harry's shoulders and walked towards the living room's window. He moved past Hermione's comfy chair and took a quick glance outside. His eyes scanned the front gate of the flat and around the street. It was empty. He closed the curtains and turned back to look at him.

"Fine. Let's go into the kitchen," he said as he walked directly to the sliding doors to peek through a small gap in the drapes. "And have a seat. What I'm about to tell you is gonna sound mental."

Harry followed him into the kitchen and took a seat. He looked at him curiously as his behavior continued to be suspicious. This time he would make a better attempt in believing anything he had to say. He wasn't sure what could have made him act like this, but he could tell it was serious.

"Right. Let's hear it then."

Ron pulled out his wand and gave it a flick. "Accio muggle report!"

From underneath the couch in the living room, the report of the five serial killers came flying to Ron's hand.

"We're gonna need this."

"Okay. C'mon then! What happened?" Harry urged.

Ron nodded.

"Right. Before I get to the report, I guess I'll start off with who Nettie really is."

"The woman we looked up in the archives?"

"Yes. Remember her real name? Anjenetta Grampion? Well yeah, Nettie is her nickname. She's also known as Agnetta."

Harry frowned.

"I kinda figured that out myself already mate."

"I know. Just stay with me. You know how the photo we saw of her in the ministry was centuries old? Well that's really her. But when I saw her, she looked entirely different."

"Wait, you saw her?" asked a surprised Harry. "And different? How so?"

Ron nodded as he thought about the details.

"I met her, yeah. I'll get to that in a bit. Well apparently, she's not a witch or a muggle. Remember how I told you that Mike also said he wasn't a wizard? Yet, he had the power to reflect our spells?"

Harry looked away from him as a bit of anger showed on his face at the mention of Mike's impermeability. He nodded as he remembered their brief battle on the rooftop and in front of Ron's flat. He had reflected almost every curse and spell with ease.

"They don't use magic. They practice something entirely different called voodoo," said Ron in an earnest tone.

Harry's gaze turned back to Ron as he couldn't believe what he had just heard. He tilted his head and gave him a peculiar look as he thought he might have misunderstood.

"Ron, voodoo? I've heard of that before. But it's not like the magic that you and I know, the kind we are born with. It's—"

"Evil, I know. She told me all about it. Harry, don't freak out mate, but Nettie was born hundreds of years ago. Back during the early slave trade days! She was born with these weird abilities it seems. A bit how young children are discovering their magic you know? But her magic was entirely different. She told me she was forced to suppress it by her family and master. Her family was enslaved so you can't even begin to imagine how bad she had it. But she didn't turn into an Obscurial like we learned in school which is the weird part. Anyway, one day, a strange woman bought her from their family's master at the time and she was separated from her family. She was shipped away to live with this woman and never saw her family again. Talk about rough childhood. Said this new master was the one who taught her everything but most importantly, how to harness her abilities by practicing voodoo for evil. She called it being a voodoo priestess."

Harry's heart raced as he was taking the short story in. He displayed various looks on his face as it contorted after Ron went into detail.

"Voodoo priestess? Born hundreds of years ago? But how could you be sure that she's telling the truth?" he asked skeptically. "You were right. This does sound mental."

"Believe me mate, I saw everything! Her power…blimey. But wait, I'm not done! When her master died a few years later, Nettie took her place when she was of age. Except now she used her voodoo powers for good. She even told me all about the magical and non-magical events in history leading up until now. She's known about everything going on with both worlds Harry! Talked about some muggle wars that were fought. Not to mention the International Statute of Secrecy, Rappaport's Law, Grindelwald, hell even Voldemort!"

Harry started to shake his head with a small grin as he couldn't possibly bring himself to believe what he was saying. These were bold statements that were unheard of.

"But how? How's that even possible? How is it that the ministry hasn't found out any more information about her or this voodoo stuff? They would've at least found something!"

"Exactly! Why hasn't anyone ever noticed? Well for one, she lives in America. In a deep hidden Bayou in the state of Louisiana—I think that's what it was called. So it's within MACUSA's jurisdiction, not our ministry's. But you're right. Not even they have any further information on her. I know this because that's where I was the entire time I was gone."

Harry's jaw dropped as he couldn't retain the astonishment on his face.

"You were in America!? What the hell were you doing there!?"

Ron placed his hand up to stop him.

"Relax. I'll tell you what happened, but let me finish you prat! Anyway, we can't underestimate Nettie. I'm telling you…her power—it's like nothing I've ever seen before! To think that Dumbledore might even be inferior to her..."

Harry gave a short laugh in amusement.

"Okay, now I know you're barking!" he said with a shake of his head.

"It's true! She didn't disclose the details of her voodoo shit or how she could live this long, but I'm telling the truth! And she's nothing like the photo we saw in the ministry. She's different. She's this young black woman, gorgeous. Heavy African accent and everything."

Harry took a minute to think about what Ron was saying now. On one hand, he had made a mental note to himself earlier to take him more seriously. But how could he if his best friend was describing some pretty unrealistic scenarios. He still wasn't told why he was behaving the way he was.

He looked back up at Ron as he continued speaking.

"Check this out. Now this is bloody creepy and will give you a sense of how mad she is. Supposedly, she looks young and dreamy because she's inhabiting someone else's body. Said she took some woman's soul or something for trying to double cross her some time ago."

Harry rolled his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Ron…I want to believe you, really I do. It's just…what you're saying is so bizarre! Taking souls now, are you serious!?"

"It's true you arse!" countered Ron eagerly. "I'm guessing she killed her with voodoo and took her body."

"But then how is that she's been able to stay as young as you say she looks? Like seriously? Hundreds of years of living and looking to still be in her mid-twenties? You're off your rocker mate."

Ron sighed and looked down in defeat. Harry had a point there. He couldn't figure that out for himself either. She had certainly told him the body was taken almost a century ago. But there was no mention of how she preserved her aging. For a moment, he thought if he was fed with false information but quickly shook away those thoughts when he remembered about the Philosopher's Stone.

"That I don't know. But hey Nicolas Flamel created the Elixir of Life from the Philosopher's Stone, right? So there are ways to do it, but Nettie never mentioned a word. There was more…important stuff to discuss," he said in a sly tone, looking down at his hands.

Harry looked at him with more curiosity.

"Like what?" he asked.

Ron took a deep breath and eased in closer to the table's center. Harry did the same.

"Okay now onto Mike. So you saw me walk into the vortex before Hermione's spell landed, right?"

Harry nodded.

"The vortex was a bit like a portkey or the Floo Network. Whatever, it was some form of transportation. It took me somewhere, except as soon as I landed, Mike slugged me. I didn't even get to look around the room."

"How am I not surprised?" Harry said, rolling his eyes.

"Hold up. So, he knocks me out cold, right? I wake up in the middle of Merlin knows where. In a bedroom, and that's where I first saw Nettie."

"In a bedroom? This was in Louisiana like you said? In America?" Harry asked.

Ron nodded.

"I'm guessing the vortex was a way to get me to America before Mike actually took me to see Nettie. Apparently, Mike owns a bar and we landed there before he took me to a small church. It was on a hill in this swampy area she called the Bayou. The church was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by murky water and trees. That's where I woke up on a bed and first saw Nettie. I went outside and explored around for a bit and everything. Here it's almost evening but when I was there it was still morning."

This time Harry felt more comfortable about what Ron was saying. He listened intriguingly, wanting to know exactly what happened in his absence.

"Okay so the moment you left through the vortex, Mike punched you and took you to some church in a swampy area in the middle of nowhere?" inquired Harry.

"Yeah. And Mike was nowhere in sight. Only her. Once I woke up I panicked and wanted to escape, but I was still injured from our battle. I was freaking out because I didn't know what they were gonna do to me. Except nothing happened. She gave me back my wand and that's where she laid it all on me. Every detail, all the information about this case. Stuff that I still can't believe myself Harry!"

Harry nodded and was glad that his best friend was safe. On one hand, he thought that if he was left unharmed then perhaps Mike and Nettie weren't enemies after all. Maybe everything Ron was saying was true, Harry thought. However, he still didn't trust them. He wanted to know more about the new details regarding their case that he had learned.

"So how did you know they could be trusted?" he asked.

Ron thought for a quick moment and smirked.

"Well, for one Nettie healed your arse."

"What? Is that what happened? She did this?" he asked, motioning again to his body. "But how's that possible from so far away?"

"Yeah. That just goes to show you the extent of her power mate. I knew her intentions weren't hostile. She only wanted to talk about what I'm telling you."

"Blimey…so what else did she say about the case?" he asked.

Ron took a deep breath as if preparing for the worst. He played around with his hands and looked unsure of how to continue.

"Alright but you gotta believe me. Shit Harry, I shouldn't have to keep saying that. Even I tried to call bullshit on what she was saying about this but it made some sense and you'll see why."

"Okay. C'mon spit it out!" pressed Harry.

Ron leaned in even closer. He spoke in a low tone and appeared he didn't want to be heard loudly.

"Mike had referred to a prophecy remember? He said that I needed his help bringing down the London killer. Well, there's more. Nettie told me that she had a prophetic dream involving the five killers in these files. Did I mention she's the best bloody seer I've ever met?"

Harry sighed in disbelief. He expected something a little more concrete that was of more importance to their case. To him, Ron's story sounded like total fabrication.

"Wow, brilliant! Is she just as reliable as Trelawney then?" Harry asked sarcastically.

This time it was Ron who rolled his eyes. He knew this wouldn't be easy to explain.

"Sod off! She's been right about everything she predicted would happen. I got to see it firsthand myself since I asked questions she couldn't possibly know."

"Oh really?" asked Harry in a sarcastic tone again.

"Yes dick. Anyway, she had this weird dream involving these five arseholes. Well this dream of hers has been recurring prior to knowing about them through these files. That's when she contacted that muggle investigator in New York to give her more information on them."

"The muggle report," said Harry, pointing at it.

Ron nodded. He noticed Harry's interest had suddenly changed now that this information related more about their case.

"Supposedly they're planning something big. Like much bigger than what Voldemort had going on. She says in her dream they were the heralds to the apocalypse—the end of all things…" said Ron motioning with his fingers as quotes.

Harry stared into empty space appearing to be lost in thought about Ron's words. It was a bit interesting because of his own history with prophecies, he thought. He then looked to the folder Ron had in front of him.

"The apocalypse you say?" he asked sternly.

Ron looked dead serious.

"You have to believe me Harry. I'm not even kidding. Look at my bloody hand…"

Harry looked up and saw Ron's hand shake uncontrollably. It didn't appear to look like he was doing it willingly either.

"That's why I've been acting so weird. Harry, this dream of hers is coming true! It sounds ridiculous and mental, I know. But certain events have already taken place that she predicted."

"What do you mean? Can she actually predict future events like a seer?"

Ron retreated to his chair and continued to look around the kitchen with uncertainty. Harry followed his gaze as he saw the paranoia in his best friend's eyes again.

"Hey c'mon talk to me. What's wrong?"

Ron tensed up again and Harry managed to notice his nervousness by the sweat of his brow.

"Well…I think Hermione's also a part of this. Nettie said both worlds are in danger, but she particularly mentioned Hermione for some reason. I didn't press her but something tells me that she wouldn't have told me even if I asked. She said I wouldn't find her here when I got back. That's why I'm on the bloody edge mate! She's been right about certain events already. I came back and find out that she really is gone!"

Harry started to take things a bit more into consideration. Ron was hardly ever this paranoid and could tell immediately that he was deeply concerned for Hermione. This case started to get much more stranger and terrifying. If what he said was really true, then they may need to contact Robards.

He suddenly remembered how he had treated his best friend on the rooftop as well. He had gone against him, being unable to control himself nor his actions and remembered confronting Hermione about it as well.

He had forgotten about what he promised to do—to take his word sincerely and abide by what he would say. After all, why would Ron lie? It's not like his best friend would make up false information. What would be the point of that? And he had been so critical to Hermione as well while he was injured, he thought. He owed a sincere apology to both of them.

"That's not all mate. There is so much more that you need to know," said Ron, bringing Harry out of his thoughts.

Harry frowned but nodded.

"Okay, shoot."

"Well, it turns out this report was never missing," Ron said, waving the files back and forth. "Thomas Deacon gave it to Nettie after she requested more information since her dream kept recurring. He works for a muggle police investigation division in New York and created these files on the five killers since their first conviction. Strange, isn't it? Why them particularly? He had to know something. Not to mention that Mike was the one who entered the updated details on the London killer the day we saw Marie Nicholas in the tube station. He was there before us on the scene. I'm guessing that Nettie gave the file to him to know more about the five killers before handing it off to me. You see, it all makes sense!"

A burning realization hit Harry's chest like a bullet.

"Hang on…If the report was never missing then that means…"

"Katie was lying. Nettie mentioned that the five killers couldn't possibly be working alone. She senses something else but couldn't see what it was. She said it was already having influence in both worlds and I have a feeling Katie is somehow connected to this."

"Bloody hell…" spoke Harry in a stunned tone. This bit of information actually made sense to him and thought that perhaps Ron was telling the truth after all. He couldn't keep his jaw from dropping as he thought back to when they had first met the supposed American Auror. That's when Harry remembered something interesting.

"She was bleeding that day."

"What do you mean?" Ron asked.

"Yeah. Don't you remember? You saw those fresh drops of blood on the ground. And she left from the scene so abruptly. Usually, no one leaves a scene until everything is taken care of. Now that I think about it, she did act rather suspiciously. We didn't notice it right away because we didn't want to work with her. Shit, it does make some sense," thought Harry, rubbing his chin.

"Told you!" pronounced Ron.

Both men were left to their thoughts in silence for a moment. Harry continued looking through empty space as Ron had his gaze on the drapes of the sliding doors. He stood up to look through the small gap again but it was still empty outside.

"But why would Mike give the files to you? Why show us?" inquired Harry.

His question caught Ron off guard. He went to have a seat again and considered the best way possible to inform his best friend of what else he had learned. Loads of information were already dropped on Harry but the hardest piece to explain was yet to come.

Ron sighed and looked up at the ceiling for a moment. In his mind, he knew that Harry didn't fully comprehend the extent of what he already had mentioned. This scale of information was so vast and complicated. All he could do was continue speaking and hope he would understand. Even if it meant his best friend didn't believe him. Regardless, Harry would have to believe him and knew of only one way to convince him.

It was now or never that the most significant piece of knowledge be told. He still had quite a bit of information to discuss and mentally prepared himself for this. Ron looked at Harry intently. Harry saw a determined look in his eye.

"Nettie says I'm part of this. She admits only I can help Mike put a stop to this prophecy from coming true. Don't you see Harry? I laughed when Mike said he was an ancient protector of the world, but he is! She is as well. They use their voodoo for good. Together they have been protecting both the magical and non-magical worlds from unseen evil threats. She's the kind of person that didn't consider Voldemort as a fucking threat! Can you believe this shit? That's why Mike laughed when I asked if he was a Death Eater. They deal with more sinister evils! That's why we were no match for him. That's why he's been around here watching my every move. She sent Mike here to find me from across the U.S., in Louisiana. I don't know what they are but Mike was sent here because he needs help."

Harry displayed a bewildered look. He stared down at the table, eyes searching back and forth through the engraved wooden lines for answers. His own promise to believe Ron's words circulated around his mind as he tried to understand what he was really saying.

"This can't be it. Is there something you aren't telling me?" he asked nervously.

Ron looked away, not seeming to be able to face him.

"I know I've mentioned a lot but it's the truth Harry. You know I wouldn't make things up without a reason. I need you to understand what's gonna come next. But yes. There's uh…more. Nettie also told me something else."

Harry scratched his head, displaying a confused look for what seemed like the hundredth time since he came back.

"Yeah well it's been a lot to take in. But what is it now?"

Ron gulped as he nodded nervously.

"Well…it's kinda hard to explain, but I know of a way to stop them. The serial killers. A way to put an end to them and whoever else is orchestrating this shit. A way to crack down this case," he said finally looking at Harry.

Harry gave him a surprised look of encouragement to continue, albeit still looking a bit confused.

"Okay…what do you mean by a way to stop them? I thought three of them were in that muggle prison already?"

Ron finally opened the files that read, "LIZARD KING, REPO MAN, and VIDEO NASTY KILLER," the three convicts currently incarcerated, and laid them across the table. He placed each killer's mugshot photo on top of their corresponding file. Harry looked at each of them curiously. He had already seen them before but wanted another look.

The first man had brown skin with short, receding hair and displayed a menacing face. The second was another brown skinned man that was shown wearing seventies disco-type clothing and a white cap. He was expressionless. The final photo was of an overweight white man. He wore a dark green muscle shirt, appearing bald with a thick mustache. His expression was threatening as well but less fearful than the first man.

"Victor Batrachian, Marco Cruz and Milton Pike are all in that Texas prison you're talking about. But do you remember that prison riot Katie spoke to us about?"

"I thought we concluded we couldn't trust her. She lied about the report and—"

"I know mate, but Nettie confirmed the prison riot. Everything Katie said was true except the missing files and possibly her identity. That's why it's so weird that she would lie about a missing report. It's as if she was searching for it herself. Anyhow, Nettie mentioned that muggle authorities were outside waiting to intervene the prison siege."

Harry continued staring at the three photos, particularly Victor Batrachian's as he looked to be the man that was the most dangerous.

"Okay so that doesn't change much. The muggle police didn't want to go in because of hostages, right?" aske Harry.

Ron nodded.

"Exactly. As you know, that riot was almost two weeks ago."

"Wait did something happened?" Harry asked curiously, looking up from the photos.

"Nettie told me that a special muggle police division called S.W.A.T. tried to intervene to get the prisoners in order. Unfortunately, they're all dead. No one has come in or out since then and muggle communications are down. That was a few days ago. The prison has now been completely overrun by inmates."

Harry looked down with a bothered face after learning about the muggle police squad's fate. He often forgot how reckless muggles could be without magic. This was an unfriendly reminder that they were capable of doing much more harm than they let on.

"Shit…Did they send in anyone else?" he asked.

Ron shook his head.

"Here's where it gets interesting. Muggle authorities can't enter because of an 'invisible' force outside the prison preventing them from getting inside."

"Voodoo…" uttered Harry.

"Yeah…voodoo. No muggle has heard anything about it on their radio or TV because the prison is in the middle of the bloody desert. There's also something about aeroplanes and helichoppers not being allowed to fly over the prison."

Harry grinned as Ron was still unable to pronounce some muggle things correctly.

"You're talking about a no-fly zone. And it's pronounced airplane and helicopter mate."

Ron rolled his eyes.

"Yeah whatever. But get this…Nettie says that MACUSA hasn't been involved with the three prisoners prior to the riot because no use of magic from these pricks had been found. Exactly like Katie said. However, she stated that they were keeping a close eye on the prisoners because they were behaving strangely remember? The people they killed shared that resonance of the killing curse. This 'invisible' force proves they are using voodoo and MACUSA doesn't know it. That's why we were called into the Marie Nicholas case in the first place!"

Harry slapped his forehead in amazement. The astounded look on his face earlier couldn't compare to how this realization made him look now.

"Fucking hell! The voodoo emits dark magic—a bit like the Avada Kedavra curse! That's why Robards said they sensed traces of it! Shit Ron you're right!"

Ron pounded his fist with great force on the table.

"I told you! I was stunned too! But that's not all! Nettie now fears that MACUSA will try to infiltrate next now that they may detect unauthorized use of magic. They'll risk exposure to the muggle police around the prison as well as risking the lives of the wizards and witches they send to infiltrate!"

Harry continued to display his face of disbelief.

"Blimey…"

"Yeah mate. I'm telling you, everything I'm saying isn't rubbish. This voodoo shit is stronger than our magic. You already know what Mike is capable of. Who knows what these pricks can do."

"Hold on! So you're meaning to say that they have similar powers to Mike? Are they able to reflect back spells and stuff?"

"Nettie didn't mention any specifics so I'm not sure. But they have certain abilities that are unfortunate for us. I'll get to that a bit later. She thinks they're planning something big in that prison. Possibly working to somehow bring forth the apocalypse she dreamt of. But that prison isn't the only place they're working in. There's another killer still on the loose in New York—Avery Marx. This file is the one Audrey accidentally saw."

At that moment Harry saw Ron open the file which read, "HOME IMPROVEMENT KILLER," and placed the artist's impression drawing on top of his file. The drawing was surprisingly in good quality as it showed a skinny white man looking away with small beady eyes. He was also shown to be wearing some kind of night vision goggles.

"And then there's also the one here in London as well—the one impersonating Jack the Ripper."

Ron opened the last file and placed that artist's impression drawing on top of its file.

This drawing looked to also be in good quality also as it was very detailed. The drawing showed a man in his late thirties with a thick chevron mustache and short dark hair parted down the middle. This drawing was from the shoulders up, similar to a mugshot photo.

"Nettie thinks that all five may be trying to open a door into this world," Ron said in a much more chilling tone.

Harry frowned as he looked up from the photos. He wasn't quite sure he had heard him correctly.

"A door? What do you mean a door?"

Ron took another deep breath. Harry felt his heart race again as he saw the uneasiness on Ron's face.

"Harry, now don't freak out. We've had our fair share of adventures and have seen all kinds of weird things. But everything I've said up until now can't even possibly begin to be more mental than what I'm about to say."

"Oh no. What is it?" he asked with such anticipation.

"Audrey was right Harry. There is another world. Beyond ours. And I'm not talking about the muggle world either…" he said, appearing to be on the verge of a breakdown.

Harry furrowed his brow once more.

"What do you mean another world? Don't tell me…"

"Yeah," nodded Ron. "I mean there's a world beyond death. Exactly how she said it—a world where everyone goes when they die. Deadside," he said anxiously.

"Deadside? I don't think I understand," replied Harry.

"I don't even know if I understand myself. Nettie said that's where Mike went immediately after taking me to the church to see her. She said he had to go collect the Dark Souls."

"Dark Souls? Deadside? Ron what the fuck are you on about!?"

"This is also why I've been so paranoid and a bit frightened really since returning. I already told you I have to help Mike put an end to these arseholes. Well, we have to collect these things to stop whoever is working with the serial killers. Nettie says it's part of the prophecy and must be done to overcome them. Just like you were destined to kill Voldemort and find the horcruxes—It's my destiny to help Mike put a stop to whoever is orchestrating this. That's what he meant when he said he needed my help. It's prophecy that I have to go to Deadside."

Harry stood up as he couldn't take any more nonsense. He had tried to believe him but this was now pushing it.

"Ron none of this makes any sense. What the hell is a Dark Soul? And why is helping Mike collect these things necessary to stop these killers? Do you hear yourself!? What the fuck even are they?"

"Look I know it sounds mad—"

"Oh really!"

"Nettie said these Dark Souls provide an evil power so great that it had to be locked away for eternity. She said long ago, before time itself, a similar evil sought the power of these Dark Souls to control everything. These things, whatever they are, grant the taker unbelievable power. She mentioned ancient beings, deities I'd say. Well they managed to seal the evil but not completely. Now she suspects that same evil finally managed to break out and is once again planning the apocalypse by finding these souls."

"Ron—"

"And so that's why I have to help Mike obtain all one hundred and twenty of them. We can't let them fall into the wrong hands."

"What!? One hundred-twenty!?" asked Harry with an unbelieving expression.

"Yeah. Nettie says he's the only one who can touch the Dark Souls without losing his mind. The weird thing on his chest is where he gets his power just like I thought. And that's not all. He also can't die. Nettie told me that when he dies in our world he gets sent directly to Deadside. And he can cross from there and back however he pleases. It's bloody creepy if you ask me. She said he can harness the Dark Soul's evil power with it. You know, control it and enhance his strength. That's why we need to recover them to prevent the Five from carrying out whatever they got planned! You've got to believe me mate."

Harry shook his head and covered his face with both hands having heard enough.

"I don't believe this shit. So what you're saying is that these five killers are working for someone else? And are wanting to collect these things so they can bring the apocalypse? Are you serious?" he asked incredulously.

"That's all I know."

"But you haven't told me specifically why you! Even if what you say is true and that's bloody stretching it! Are you seriously pulling my fucking leg here? Do you even know what these Dark Souls look like? Or are you gonna continue taking Nettie's word after being fed some worthless fairy tale?"

Ron stood abruptly looking crossed and drained.

"Listen! I'm bloody tired of hearing your fucking skepticism. I warned you about Mike and you brushed me the fuck off like it was nothing! Look what happened! I had no idea I would be returning back here you arse! I was genuinely afraid for you and Hermione. I'm not just talking rubbish here. It's the real thing! And even if you don't believe me now you will later! Just you wait until Hermione gets here. I've got proof to back everything."

His harsh words struck Harry like lightning. He couldn't react or say anything. He was right. It soon became silent after Ron's outburst save for their pounding chests that were the only sound heard to echo the flat. Harry's demeanor drastically changed as he suddenly felt consumed by guilt again. He looked away and was aware that certain events would have been different had he believed what Ron was saying from the start. It pained him to admit he was right but it had to be done. He needed to apologize and start taking what he was saying seriously.

Harry finally spoke after almost a minute long silence.

"Sorry. I know you wouldn't lie out of your arse. It's my fault any of this even happened. If I had known then that you were telling the truth maybe…"

"Don't beat yourself up about it. It's fine. You're faring much better than I did when I first heard it. Besides, I know how difficult it must be to believe this coming from me and—"

"No. That's not it. I've just been stupid and I have to apologize. Not just about this but all the other times as well," said Harry sincerely. He still appeared to not have the courage to fully meet Ron's gaze.

Ron gave him a confused look.

"What do you mean?"

Harry sighed and figured this was the best time as any to explain to him what he should have realized long ago. And to think he just found out about it while injured on his bed.

"Well, if I'm honest, you've obviously grown as a wizard. Sometimes I don't take note of that. I don't give you the credit you deserve mate. I shouldn't continue to act surprised when something amazing happens because of you. I guess I haven't been thinking about this rationally. But you've learned so much about our case. Shit, this bloody investigation has been a headache to everyone, even Robards! Yet you've managed to figure it all out."

"Not really," Ron said sheepishly looking down. He couldn't believe what he was saying. All of a sudden he noticed Harry's tone had changed.

"I'm serious. I'm sorry about my reluctance to believe you. It does make sense. Everything does. I'm also sorry about not listening to you about Mike before. And for turning against you on the rooftop. I just couldn't control myself," Harry said, looking at the table with an apologetic look to his eye.

He continued avoiding Ron's gaze.

"I don't want things to happen again like last time. I want to help. I can't continue to do nothing. I'm willing to believe anything you say, honest. You said that you have to be the one to help Mike. It's prophecy right? Just like I was the chosen one to kill Voldemort. I didn't want to be, but knew it had to be me. I guess you feel the same now. You vowed to help me anyway you could and did. I couldn't defeat him alone. You and Hermione were by my side. And I guess now we have to be by yours."

He finally managed to look at Ron deliberately in the eye.

"Harry…"

Harry shook his head to stop him from convincing him otherwise.

"Don't even think about it. We're in this together mate," Harry said, extending his hand.

Ron looked at it for a moment and grinned in amusement. Deep down he was finally glad to be acknowledged for his efforts and responsibility. This didn't matter much to him as it had in the past, but Harry's words had made him believe in himself much more. He took his hand and shook it fiercely.

"Apology accepted. And thank you. I'm gonna need all the help I can get."

"Right. What's the plan then Weasley?"

"I know what we must do. First, I have to cross over to Deadside and meet with Mike. Nettie told me how."

Harry nodded in agreement.

"Right. I'm coming too," he said.

Ron quickly shook his head, which caused Harry to give him a questioning look.

"You can't."

"What!? Why the bloody hell not?" complained Harry again in disbelief.

"I need you to stay here and wait for Hermione. You both can help me from here. Only I can enter the world of the dead. Don't worry I'll keep in contact."

"Bollocks! What do you mean only you can enter the world of the dead? I'm not gonna just stand here and do nothing! I'm coming too! I don't give a bloody damn if—"

"NO! You don't understand! If you try to cross, you'll die! Your soul will be removed from this world Harry. Only I can go. Nettie says only I can return with Mike since he can't die and has the only thing that can help us travel between both worlds."

"And what the hell is that?"

Ron gulped and tried to laugh when replying.

"Umm…a teddy bear," he said with a snicker.

"What?" Harry asked, giving him another peculiar look.

Ron tried to compose himself as he thought about how it must have sounded out loud in such a serious and dire situation.

"Ahem, I'm not sure how it works, but with it we can cross between both worlds. That's how he's able to come back to the world of the living from Deadside if he were to die in our world. Through the use of that bear. Only he can use it and she already told me that he would only allow me to come along anyway. That's why she warned me about anyone following me. I'm sorry Harry. You can still help me from here though."

"Unbelievable," Harry said, throwing his hands up in the air angrily. "How?"

"Well if you're reacting like this maybe it was a good thing that Hermione wasn't here after all."

Before Harry could speak, they heard a familiar voice.

"What makes you so sure I wasn't here?" spoke the voice.

Both men stared at one another wide-eyed in shock as they looked around vigorously for the source of the voice.

"Hermione!?" both men said in unison, feeling their hearts sink lower than the ground.

The sliding doors in the kitchen abruptly opened and in entered the bushy haired brunette holding an extendable ear in her hand. Ron looked unbelievably at the extendable ear as he became aware at the fact that she had heard everything. He looked back towards Harry who was frozen with fear. Before he could turn to face her again, he was struck by a sharp sensation that left his cheek vibrating with pain.

This was just the beginning of the end, he thought.

Chapter Text

August 27, 2000 (4:30 pm)

Ron and Hermione's Flat - London, England

Harry appeared to be wide-eyed in utter shock as a paralyzing sensation took over his body. He didn't think he ever feared for the consequences as much as he did in that very moment. He gulped and looked over at Ron who had an even greater look of incredulity as he touched the spot where Hermione had hit him. His left cheek showed a bright red mark on his pale, freckled skin.

She looked between both men with a fierce gaze and then toward the files that were still spread out on the table. Her angered expression couldn't even begin to compare to how she was feeling deep inside. She then turned back to face Ron with a face he'd only seen once before.

He continued massaging his cheek, still dazed from the sudden slap he sustained. But the pain radiating through the left side of his face couldn't match to the indignant look in Hermione's eyes. The soft, doe-brown color was no longer evident as it was now replaced with an ice cold much more chilling than his own blue ones.

Unable to contain the silence anymore, Ron tried to speak. "H-Hermione…I can explain—"

She held up her hand quickly and looked away, trying to contain herself from exploding. "Don't," she said with such antipathy. It was delivered in such a calm and cold manner that made Ron much more nervous.

He gulped as he looked back towards Harry feeling unsure of what to do next. Harry returned a look that told him he was also indecisive about what to do. Both men then saw her rummage through her pockets for something. She pulled out Harry's wand.

"I see you're all better now Harry," said Hermione bluntly. "Here." She tossed him his wand. Harry caught it, but felt he caught a hint of loathe along with it—surely due to the details she must have heard. It was the same type of feeling you had for an enemy. Hermione no longer had that friendly look in her eye. Harry was at least grateful for having his wand back, but was surprised to hear what she told him next.

"You can't even imagine how I'm feeling right now so I'm only going to say this once nicely. I want to ask you to please go home Harry. Ron and I have loads to…discuss," she said, scowling at Ron who gulped anxiously. She focused her glare back at him. "Besides, you've been gone for almost a day. Ginny will start worrying soon and if she also finds out about all of this, she'll start asking questions. I'm not sure how she'll react when she finds out about the true extent of this case," she said sternly between the two of them.

Harry and Ron exchanged looks once more. So much had happened since Harry left Grimmauld Place after seeing Ron's patronus that he forgot he had been away for almost a full day. It was even more suspicious that Ginny hadn't come around asking for him as well. She probably thought he was working on the case, which was quite ironic to say the least, Harry thought.

He looked over to Ron once more for reassurance on what to. Ron told him silently through his expression that they would discuss details on how to proceed later. Harry seemed to understand as he looked back to Hermione and nodded. He quietly walked past her and exited through the sliding doors out into the rain.

He turned back around and saw her stand in front of the sliding doors with her arms crossed, waiting for him to leave. She didn't mention a word. Her expression told him everything. It looked similar to the time he informed her that Ron had come back after his abrupt departure during the horcrux hunt. He then saw Ron's panicked look behind her as he tried to focus on the doorstep of Grimmauld Place to avoid being splinched. Without another word, he finally disapparated.

Immediately after Harry was gone, Hermione turned around swiftly to face Ron. She didn't look wistful like before nor did she display that fear she had of losing him. This time she stood firm with a livid look in her eye. Ron was about to speak again when Hermione launched herself towards him, striking every bit of him that she could.

"Hey—ow—Hermione wait—OW—gerrof! Hermione wait!" he called out in defense.

"Don't—you—dare!" she shouted as she continued the barrage of punches. "You—absolute—arse—Ronald Weasley! You think you can just treat me like I'm nothing! And stun—me—then—leave!"

"OW—wait! I can explain everything! Please!"

Hermione didn't seem to care for his excuses and continued to hit him much harder. "NO! No explanations! Do you even know what I've been going through the past few days!? You—selfish—halfwitted—jerk!" she shouted as the punches kept coming.

"Hermione please let me explain!" he exclaimed as he tried but failed to block her blows.

She finally stopped punching him after one final push to his chest and looked at him sharply. She pulled out her wand and pointed it straight at his face. The scene struck a close resemblance to the previous day right before he stunned her.

"If you dare say that you'll explain things one more time…I swear I will hex you so far up your own arse Ronald Weasley or so help me—"

"Okay wait!" he shouted with his hands up in the air. "Please just listen to me!"

"I told you already that I've heard enough!" she cried loudly. She was on the verge of saying the incantation to a stinging jinx.

"HERMIONE!!!" he finally bellowed emphatically. His sudden uproar made her stop her shouts completely as she remained planted steadily, though arm and wand shaking nervously. Ron took this opportunity to edge a little closer.

"Don't move! I'm warning you Ron," she said dangerously.

He stopped in his tracks, hands still up. "Okay, okay. I'm not going anywhere. But please listen. I know exactly how I made you feel. It wasn't right," he started.

"Oh really," she replied sarcastically. The livid look in her eyes didn't subside. Ron thought she looked downright terrifying, possibly even putting Mike to shame.

"I do. I know exactly what I did. You didn't deserve it. You Hermione, of all people, didn't deserve it. And yet, like always I still managed to muck things up."

"Oh yes! Of course! Why am I not surprised?" she said in a sarcastically harsh tone, striking another small blow to his ego.

For a quick moment, he thought about the worst that could happen between them. This wasn't like their typical row. She didn't feel remorse for what she was saying and that told Ron exactly how bad he had treated her the past week. They had already been uneasy prior to the investigation but he felt like they were treading through dangerous waters.

"Hermione please just listen to what I'm saying!"

"Ron, I trusted you! I worried night after night and didn't even get so much as a hello! How do you think that made me feel!? I worried day after day this past week you stupid prat! You and Harry suddenly run off to chase after a man killing innocent muggles and you don't want me to worry? You lied to me!" she shouted once more.

She then deepened her voice, trying to impersonate exactly how he sounded. "'Oh I'm sure it's nothing Hermione. Probably some poor old bloke needing help with Merlin knows what!' Oh yeah! Right. Just some poor old bloke. How about you rack that stupid brain of yours Ron! So that next time you'll actually be a man and tell me how things are from the start!" she yelled, giving him one hard, final push.

Ron was about to shout another retort but stopped himself upon hearing her last comment. His desirous expression softened to a crushed one as he blinked rapidly trying to process what she had said. He suddenly felt drained of energy as a tight knot took form in his chest. Hermione never spoke to him like this. Even with his eyes showing such remorse, it seemed she was out to make him to feel the same pain that he caused.

Hermione too realized the extent of what she had said but retained her heated expression. A part of her convinced her it was necessary in order for him to understand. She was not going to let him treat her like she was worthless. Hermione hated being lied to and ignored for the sake of protection. She felt betrayed for being left out.

"Say something!" she demanded, suddenly feeling the silence too thin. Her wand was still shaking and felt her palm get sweaty.

But all Ron could do was look away from her with a miserable and defeated look on his face. He felt his heart spiral into a deep abyss at what he had caused her to become. The warmth she was full of that normally fueled his confidence seemed diminished as he now felt his security fade.

Hermione couldn't take it any longer as the uncanny silence was eating inside her. The pent-up emotions she held were now abruptly released as she dropped her wand and clamored her fists onto his body once more. Yet, with each punch she thrusted, she felt entirely worse. She shouted 'why's' and 'how could you's' to him but he continued to avoid her gaze as he welcomed her punches willingly.

She realized again what she was doing and the nerve she had struck with her statements. Hermione also failed to notice the tears she deliberately tried to prevent from escaping. Shame and confusion overtook her as she sunk to her knees on the floor, dissolving into a fresh wave of tears.

"I trusted you with everything Ron! Whenever something's wrong I tell you because I trust you! But you can't even do the same—"

"I did this to protect you!" he suddenly countered loudly, causing her to look up from her sunken knees in surprise. Ron gained a newfound passion burning inside him that raged against her. Everything he had done until now had a purpose. For the most part he had inadvertently hurt Hermione, but he became aware of the fact that she heard everything from his and Harry's discussion. She had to know about why he had kept information hidden from her.

"Listen, I'm sorry okay! I'm sorry for hurting you! I'm sorry for stunning you and I'm sorry for leaving! I'm sorry for always being such a huge disappointment to you! I'm sorry for everything I've ever done! I never meant to ignore you or make you feel any less than what you are Hermione! I did it without thinking it through but it was done with good intentions! I told you yesterday before I left. Before I stunned you, I told you about what would happen if anyone other than Harry and I knew about the true extent about this case."

"I can take care of my—"

"No! Not this time. You just don't understand!" he pressed, trying to emphasize to her just how dangerous this case really was.

"But—"

"But nothing Hermione! You heard everything, right!? I've seen what Mike and Nettie are capable of and they're serious! You're just like Harry! Always think I'm barmy even when I'm telling the truth or trying to do the right thing!" he shouted, looking at her accusingly. "Everything I do Hermione, I do it for you! Try to understand that I don't want to lose you! Exactly like I told Harry, this is more dangerous than Death Eaters! It's like you said. This end of the world shit is nothing like we've ever faced before! I didn't avoid you to hurt you on purpose! You know I bloody well love you and would never do it if there wasn't a good reason!"

She listened intently to his words while searching his eyes for the truth. She didn't answer immediately but knew deep down he was right. She thought back to what Harry had told her before she left to the coffee shop. Hermione realized now that he had a point. Ron had even called her out on her skepticism and apologized for being a disappointment to her. Harry was right—she was too critical of him. She wanted nothing more than to throw herself onto his arms but the pain she sustained was still there. She would not give this up easily.

"But Ron you've told me all about your cases! I know Aurors are not supposed to reveal details about ongoing investigations but since when have you ever followed that rubbish? You know how worried sick I get! You say you were trying to protect me but how does making me feel completely useless sound? I understand that it's your job and I'm no longer involved but I could have helped! Hiding this case from me makes me think that I've just been useless to you all this time. And Harry as well. That you think of me as nothing more than a useless muggleborn that's too judgmental to you," she said looking down with an ashamed look on her face.

Ron closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he tried to compose himself. In the back of his mind, he felt pleased that she had at least recognized her faults—just like Harry had. Now it was up to him to pick her up and make things right again. He needed her help on this case, but he had to fix their relationship first. Hermione always came first.

"Hermione you know that's not true. I mean, yeah, I get chastised every now and then but only because I have my faults. Look, I know I still have to work on my insecurities and other things as well but it's okay! You're only critical of me because you know I could be better! You believe in me. Hell, you believe in me more than I believe in myself…" he said looking down at his feet. "Maybe that's why I'm so mad for you. You know I have unreached potential and you want me to be better. Don't you see?" he asked while kneeling down on one knee to face her. "You're helping me become a better bloke," he said offering her a hopeful smile.

During his whole speech, Hermione's face had drastically changed. The accusing and livid eyes she helmed were no longer evident as they were now replaced by affection and admiration. After further inspection of his eyes, she became lost in them once more. Tears continued escaping but she was now giggling with sudden bliss at his words.

"You know I love you Hermione. I'm sorry for how I treated you. I continue promising that I'll never do it again but somehow always break it. How about I promise to always make things right? That's something I know I can do," he said, tilting her chin up with one hand and using the other to wipe away her tears.

"Oh Ron!" she cried, throwing herself again to him, this time for an intimate and passionate kiss. They stumbled on the kitchen floor and Hermione landed on top of him, sloppily kissing him fully on the mouth. It was full of ecstasy and love which immediately melted the cold knot that was embedded in Ron's chest.

"And you're not a huge disappointment Ronald Weasley. Not now. Not ever. But you're still an arse," she said with one last soft punch.

"I'll take what I can get," he said with a grin as he tucked a bit of her hair behind her ear before pulling her to him and kissing her deeply once more. This time it was full of want and excitement—something the two of them had gone without for what seemed like eternity. Their fight for dominance displayed such lust and ardor that he forgot all about what was going on with his case.

Hermione too had forgotten about her concerns and loathe for him. Having his lips connected to hers erupted the intensity and adoration that seemed impossible to bring forth before. They kissed and caressed one another's bodies, wanting to feel each other entirely. Hermione grazed Ron's hair in which he replied by lowering his lips down to her neck causing a libidinous reaction out of her.

She moaned in pleasure and met his lips once more as she maintained one hand on his hair and the other traveling down his chest. Ron, feeling lustful himself, snuck his hands underneath her shirt, gently fondling her breasts, earning him another moan of pleasure. He continued brushing his lips against hers in such a way that was far from innocent. Hermione's hand finally reached his bulge, giving it a firm squeeze to which he groaned in pleasure, whispering sweet vulgarity into Hermione's ear. She threw her head back and Ron continued grazing along her neck, sending a sensation down to her core.

Hermione kept rubbing and squeezing, sending Ron's mind driving mad. He was about to return the favor just as it appeared the thunder roaring outside made him stop. His seduced senses suddenly returned to normal and Ron knew they couldn't proceed as he quickly remembered exactly why he had returned. Hermione felt him resist and she pulled back, looking a bit confused as to why he had stopped. Their heavy breathing and pounding hearts were drowned by the look of yearning they each had for one another in that moment. She was still straddling him as they stared into the crevasse of each other's eyes affectionately in silence before Ron broke his gaze.

"Sorry. I-I…umm, we can't. As much as it pains me," he said with tight closed eyes, subtlety ruining the moment.

Hermione snapped back to reality as she rapidly blinked and looked away nodding, trying to catch her breath. In her expression, Ron noticed she was disappointed to have stopped their snogging that would surely have led to sex. She knew this was no time for having a moment but when was it ever, she pondered. Once again, after finally having her boyfriend back, there was something causing them to stay apart. A part of her felt angry once more for being riled up for nothing, yet she understood and given the circumstances, Ron had a point.

That's what she hated most about his duty as an Auror. Oftentimes their special time was to be put on hold, albeit for good reason. Even then she still hated it. But upon realizing he had interrupted their snogging due to a serious situation she had to comply.

"Oh no, it's my fault, really…I shouldn't have…" she said as she got off him rather quickly. Ron saw the embarrassed look on her face and went ahead to reassure her that it was him who started it with his words.

"You don't have to apologize Hermione. Don't get me wrong. I'm bloody pissed for the blue balls but…you know…with everything going on—"

She gave a small smile and nodded. "I understand...completely. We can't express our love…at this moment I mean," she said shyly. Her ears seemed to be more hot than usual.

Ron snickered and rolled his eyes. "Pfft will it pain you to say shag endlessly?"

Hermione turned to face him sharply with her eyes wide open. "Ron!" she said, giving him a small smack on his arm.

"What?" he asked innocently.

She shook her head, rubbing her eyes in annoyance. "Honestly you're just like my mother! At least try to be subtle about it…"

He gave her another unbelievable look before shaking his head. "Are you serious? Telling me to be subtle about sticking my knob in—"

"RON! Oh my goodness! There! Moment's ruined," she said as she was about to get up from the kitchen floor.

"Hey wait!" he said, extending his arm to stop her.

She tried to push his arm aside but he held his strength. She rolled her eyes. "No. You're vile. I'm not hearing any more of this."

He laughed once more. "No, no. The shagging will have to wait, as much as it pains me. I wanna talk about what you heard. I suppose it's a good time as any," he said with an expression that had great concern. Hermione stopped trying to get up and instead remained seated. She looked at him intently and noticed he had that rugged look again. She nodded at his statement.

"So umm…what exactly did you hear?" he asked.

Hermione played around with a small string sticking out of her jeans as she pondered how best to reply to him. "Well…everything, I think. Everything about the old woman you and Harry researched at the archives. And everything about a man named Mike that you were trying to protect me from. Oh, and umm…the details about your case, I guess," she said nervously.

"So everything?" he asked again with a raised eyebrow.

"I'm pretty sure. I actually got here just after you did. I needed time to…process what had happened yesterday and left the flat for a bit. But when I came back and saw you entering the flat, I couldn't believe it," she said with a shake of her head. "I thought I'd never see you again," she said looking sadly. She developed a hurt look again while gazing into the void of his blue eyes. Her heavy breathing subsided and he wanted nothing more than to hold her in his arms and never let go.

"Really?" he asked, offering another small smile.

She nodded slowly looking down. "Of course. How was I supposed to know where you went? I thought the worst. I thought you left on purpose. That you wanted to leave me. I didn't have a clue about anything. You see now why I've been so upset? Harry refused to tell me anything for the same pigheaded reason. I was about to confront you before you went inside the flat but I remembered I had an extendable ear. George had given it to me and well…I just had to know for myself. It took everything in my power to hold myself back and not hex you there and then."

At this Ron gulped. Hermione looked down at her hands and continued. "I don't know. I never would've suspected to see you back so soon, but I guess I knew deep down that I would. I just had a feeling that you would tell Harry about where you went. But I didn't expect to hear everything. It's a bit surreal actually. Louisiana huh? Enjoyed the warm weather did you?"

Ron looked amused as he gave a short snicker. "Don't think you're off the hook yet Ronald! I'm still mad at what you did. I'm just more tolerable towards you, that's all," she said smiling but looking serious as well.

"A bit of snogging doesn't hurt either does it?" he replied grinning, which earned him another punch from Hermione.

"Oi! Bloody hell woman! That actually hurts you know?"

"Oh shut up!" she said with a roll of her eyes, causing him to laugh once more. She tried to keep a serious face, but another look at his goofy expression made her erupt into a fit of giggles. For the first time in a long time, they laughed together quite loudly. Ron's smile was so contagious that it too melted Hermione's heart. The bottled emotions she had kept hidden were now replaced with avidity and desire once more. She was glad to finally have him back.

Ron moved closer to her and placed his left arm around her waist, letting Hermione lean comfortably against his shoulder. They were sitting on the kitchen floor, leaning back against the wall by the sliding doors in comfortable silence. They were left to their own thoughts after their laughter had died down, creating a perfectly peaceful scenario. It seemed Ron's discussion with Harry was now on both of their minds. Ron looked down at Hermione's right hand and took it with his own.

She too looked down at their now intertwined hands and then back up at him. He was still gazing at them and she noticed a hint of relief in his eyes mixed with some slight apprehension. "You're thinking about case," she said concernedly.

Ron moved his head to face her and nodded to confirm her suspicion. The burning realization of what was to come next still made him nervous beyond belief. He still hadn't told anyone about Nettie's plan or how she proposed to accomplish crossing to Deadside.

"You heard everything. You know I have to do this," he said.

Hermione looked back down and tightened her grip. Ron looked surprised but recovered quickly at reading her reassurance.

"Everything I heard sounds like something out of a fairytale. Other worlds, other dimensions, prophecies, and the end of the world rubbish." She stopped herself to shake her head and give a short snicker. "Normally I wouldn't believe this sort of thing. Like at all. There's nothing logical about any of this. Actually, it's all intuition."

Ron continued to stare at her, hoping she wouldn't give him the same talk Harry did about not believing. He scanned through her expression, trying to read what she was getting at.

She continued. "I remember not believing Harry when it came to Voldemort at first. I guess I've learned that sometimes being purely logical can be ignorance. I guess I can accept that. This almost sounds similar to what we've been through with the war and all. And now you're off to fight in another one," she said to him.

Ron shook his head to which she furrowed her brow. "This isn't even a war Hermione. It's different than what Harry had to go through. This bloke who calls himself the Shadow Man, Mike, he is the one at war. I'm just there to help prevent this from happening. As for why me? Your guess is as good as mine. But I must do this. An entire immortal army full of monsters crossing to this world from the dead…can you believe it?" he asked smiling in disbelief.

Hermione remained quiet and moved her gaze away from him to stare at her wet trainers. A particular thought then came to her mind. "You said no one can cross over to the other world. Ron, the only way I know that someone can do that is by—"

"Dying, I know…" he replied softly, now gazing into space.

"…Oh…" Hermione uttered, doing the same, understanding the degree of what he just said. She kept throwing sneaky glances at him with a blank expression. She didn't look visibly upset or blue or anything. She just couldn't believe she was forced to let him go once again. What they shared had been short-lived, exactly as it had been on that night he had been called in.

"I'm still not sure what it is about me that can help Mike collect these Dark Souls Hermione. Nettie says I'm the only one who can do it. She said there's something in me that no one else has. But that's what I don't understand. What could it be?" he asked as he still stared into space.

Hermione thought for a bit. Normally, she understood things explicitly well, but on this occasion, upon overhearing Ron's destiny as he called it, she realized it was completely mental. Chasing after death to help a man stop five others from bringing the end of the world seemed ludicrous. Yet, the evidence behind what he was saying was sound. What troubled her deeply was learning of the other form of magic embodied within the practices of Nettie. There were instances where she had read muggle urban legends and voodoo. But to hear about it firsthand, as well as the evil power it brought, caused her to worry even more.

She was not one to believe in otherworldly supernatural factors. But Ron's recent shake-up and now firsthand experience with it made it all too real for her. She was glad that Harry had at least tried to argue against Ron when they talked but even then, Ron was right. She had a sure feeling. She had to show him that she was ready to change her mindset and stop acting surprised at his actions.

"Hermione?" asked Ron, bringing her out of her thoughts.

"Oh! Sorry, I was just thinking about what you said. Umm…I'm not sure. It could be anything, really. You have so many admirable traits Ron. They're invaluable to that man you're helping. Like Harry, if you really are the only one who can help prevent this alleged prophecy, just as this woman's prophetic dream says then I know of only one thing."

He listened intently to her words, interested in what she had to say. "What's that?" he asked.

She looked at him keenly but didn't answer immediately. "You won't fail," she replied with a smile. "Not if I have anything to say."

Ron looked at her with a confused expression but then gave her his famous lopsided grin as he understood what she meant. His cheeks then turned into a crimson red color as he looked down in embarrassment.

"You're amazing you know?" he said, staring back at her with warm eyes.

She smiled brightly too and squeezed his hand. "I do but it still feels good to hear it every now and then," she said with a smirk. He gave her one last small grin before planting a deep affectionate kiss again on her lips. She reciprocated by caressing his face with her hands, never wanting to let go. Before escalating even further, Ron stopped again abruptly. It left Hermione wanting for more.

"I'm sorry. It's just…you know, with the case and all. I don't want blue balls twice mind me."

"Oh. Right. Umm…" she said, letting go of his hand quickly. He too removed his arm around her waist as they looked like a couple of twelve year olds all over again in embarrassment.

"Not that I don't want to," he continued. "It's just…we have to act quickly. The more we stall, umm…you know."

"No, you're right. This can…this can wait," she said with a bitter half smile.

Ron grinned and stood up. He grabbed Hermione's hands once more and helped her to her feet. He then walked over to the table to gather the files. Hermione was intrigued at being able to see them up close before he collected them. She had seen files of muggle criminals before but hardly ever ones in the wizarding world. A question reappeared in her mind that she wanted to ask him desperately.

"So Ron…what's the plan? I heard you and Harry talking but I guess I kinda barged in on you both before a plan of action could be discussed. You said you needed both our helps. If we can't come with you, how are we going to help? I'm with Harry on this one. I don't want to be sitting around doing nothing. I just wish this other world wasn't so perplexing. I've never heard or read anything about it. But I guess you can't fully rule it out. Remember the veil in the Department of Mysteries?"

Ron stopped collecting the files and turned to face her with a suspicious look in his eye. She blinked rapidly at his sudden strange expression. It was as if she hit something right on the money with her question. She noticed it right away too.

"Wait—"

"Yep. That's exactly what's gonna happen. But first I have to send a patronus to Harry. We're gonna meet at the ministry right now. We have to get into the Death Chamber. And I know a way in," he said with a sly smile, continuing to pick up files from the table.

Hermione's eyes widened as she processed what he had said. "The Death Chamber? Y-you can't be serious! Ron no one is ever allowed in there!"

"It sounds mental but that's really our best bet."

She crossed her arms as she scoffed at his nonchalant behavior. "And how do you plan to accomplish that? It's completely forbidden to everyone but unspeakables!"

"I know. And I so happen to know one that will let us walk right in."

Hermione scrunched her eyebrows trying to think about who Ron was talking about. In the meantime, she saw him stop rummaging through the files to conjure a patronus message for Harry. The misty blue Jack Russell Terrier emerged from his wand and jumped around the kitchen before leaving through the sliding doors.

"There," said Ron. "He should be meeting us there in a bit. Hopefully Ginny didn't pester him with too many questions."

At the mention of his sister, it became clear to Hermione exactly who Ron was talking about. He thought back to the day she went over to the Burrow for dinner. She thought back to a particular conversation she had with Audrey. It was her.

"Ron you mean Audrey!?" she said sharply, taken by complete surprise.

Ron stopped arranging the files once more as he saw her figure it out. He sighed and sat down on a chair. "That brain of yours is bloody brilliant. But yeah, Audrey. She can get us inside without a problem. The unspeakables' shift is almost done actually so we better hurry."

Hermione shook her head in disbelief. "Ron what makes you think that she'll help? She can go to Azkaban for this! Do you even hear yourself?"

"Relax. Believe me, I had the same concerns when Nettie told me but I know what to do. I've got a plan," he said with an assuring look.

Hermione once again crossed her arms and stared at him fixedly. "Alright let's hear this brilliant plan of yours then."

Ron nodded. "Okay. It's quite simple actually. But I guess I'll feel guilty if we do go through with this."

"Let's hear it then," she pressed.

He took a deep breath. "Well, Nettie has already foreseen the future. Audrey will lead us right in."

"She saw the future?" she asked looking hesitant.

"Yeah. I thought you heard everything?" he asked, furrowing his brow.

"I did but you know how I feel about future sight, prophecies and divination…"

Once again Ron felt bothered by the notion that his girlfriend began having doubts again. He thought they had sorted their discrepancies already but it was clear to him that it wasn't the case. "Hermione this is different. I keep saying it! This voodoo shit is nothing to mess with and you're still having doubts! Just hear me out!"

She looked annoyed with her arms still crossed. "Fine," she said.

Ron put down the folders in his hand back on the table to explain their plan of action. "Right. So we have two options. Audrey will get out of interning soon. We can either wait for her to come out and convince her to let us through or use the Imperius curse."

Hermione narrowed her gaze at Ron with a blank expression. The kitchen became silent once more save for the rain still pouring outside. "That's it? That's your big plan!?" she asked seriously.

He nodded. "I know for a fact it will work. When Harry and I went to the archives, we accidentally bumped into her. Well, I sort of…umm…dropped the files and she saw what we were investigating."

"Okay, so…"

"So she told us about the extent of her job. She didn't want us to get in trouble for showing too much to a non-Auror so she gave us information that could be set up to blackmail her."

Hermione looked at him with a curious expression. "Why would she do that? Insurance to reassure you and Harry that she wouldn't slip about what she saw? Are you serious?" she asked with an unbelieving face.

"Exactly. She made a deal with us. Harry thought it was a bit unnecessary but she went through with it. I mean, it was my fault to begin with so I felt bad too, but after she saw the files, she seemed a little too intrigued so I was on board with the deal. But anyway, she basically mentioned our battle in the Death Chamber. I'm not sure why exactly but then she talked about how she's heard about information pertaining to the veil. Something about another world possibly beyond it. Which is ironic because Deadside is that other world. See! Everything does make sense!"

Hermione started rubbing her chin in deep thought about what he said. "…I guess it does make some sense. But don't unspeakables have the Taboo curse? How is it that she told you all of this without any consequences?"

"You're right, had she been a real unspeakable. She's still an intern there so she isn't fully recognized as one yet. And because of that, the department doesn't believe she knows enough to be given the curse."

Hermione appeared surprised with raised eyebrows and unlocked her arms. "I guess you really did think about everything."

"Always the tone of surprise," he said with a smile. She smiled too and shook her head.

"I don't know Ron. This plan still seems vague. So how are you going to convince her to help? And don't say by threatening her with blackmail! It's just cruel and not right."

"There's no other way Hermione. I was leading toward the Imperius curse since Nettie did something to my wand."

"What do you mean?"

Ron pondered for a moment. "Well…since Kingsley's the new Minister of Magic, we're only ever to use the unforgivable curses under extreme circumstances. Even now if we were to use them there's a backlog that records every time one uses them. But Nettie made my wand withstand that. She said that if I were to use the Imperius curse to get in the Death Chamber I'd be saved from an inquiring letter. Cool huh?" he said with a grin.

Hermione didn't seem to find any amusement as he was now technically able to use the curses without restriction. "It's barbaric. This Nettie that you keep talking about seems like a repulsive woman with her magic. But I suppose if it's just this once…"

"Yeah, once I'm through the veil and you two are out of there, we'll be good."

"But wait! Upon getting past the door, are you simply gonna walk right through it? How could you be so sure that the man will be waiting on the other side at that exact location?"

Ron made a perplexing face. This is something that wasn't discussed with Nettie. He was unsure of the specific details pertaining to a location in Deadside. He wasn't sure what to expect as soon as he crossed the veil, but was warned to always be on guard. Malevolent spirits and the evil that went on in that location was enough to drive the weak minded crazy.

He was told that demonic monsters and those damned to eternal suffering roamed the endless land and would come after him if he didn't find Mike quickly. This is something that frightened him immensely.

"I'm not sure actually. All I have is their word. Nettie seems to know quite a bit about that veil. Apparently one cannot travel freely between both worlds through it. As you know, nothing can bring the dead back to life. Not even the resurrection stone. So once you go into it, you die. Except, I'm not sure what to expect once I get there…"

Hermione had a worried look on her face. "But Ron…crossing the veil means death. How can Nettie guarantee that you'll come back? You said it yourself. Nothing can bring the dead back to life. What if something happens? What if you get trapped? What if—?"

"No. I won't. Nettie explained it all. Dying by choice is a sin against nature. Some rubbish about voodoo laws that overlook the way world works. It's mental, trust me. That is why it's crucial to go beyond the veil because it's essentially a doorway. In this world, I will die, yes. But at least I can return with Mike with his umm…"

"Teddy bear," Hermione exclaimed forgetting about the interesting artifact.

"Right. That."

Ron was still unsure about how the teddy bear worked for Mike. After the death of Luke, his very young and only brother, the stuffed animal was left in Mike's possession. Knowing this to be a reminder of his late brother's love, it formed some kind of bond connecting him to Deadside, enabling him to travel freely between worlds when he chose to do so. Nettie had told Ron that the most powerful and indestructible form of magic is what made it possible to have the bear used as a portkey. It was love. Love for his late brother and family. Mike had even tried and failed to search for the souls of his family in Deadside as he would occasionally hear his brother call for help through the bear. This had driven Nettie insane as she mentioned to Mike time and time again to let the dead rest in peace.

Ron was taken out of his thoughts by Hermione. "Oh Ron this is madness," she said with another worried expression on her face. What if it didn't work? She thought. She was not about to place her faith in a worn-out teddy bear.

Ron simply nodded in acknowledgement and offering a halfhearted smile. "Believe me I know. Nettie is confident that Mike can bring me back. I still don't quite trust her, but I can say for sure that she's not the enemy. Nor Mike. I know they're trying to help. And so, I'll do what's necessary. With your help, of course. I better get everything ready."

Hermione nodded as she moved her focus to the five serial killers' mugshots, feeling eager to associate a face to the ones responsible for this mess. But as she gazed to one particular picture, her heart immediately dropped. Her breathing intensified as she retreated from the kitchen and instantly covered her mouth in complete disbelief. She hit the back of the couch and jumped with a loud shriek.

"Hey what's wrong? What happened?" Ron asked with a concerned face offering a worried expression.

Hermione looked frightened beyond belief as she still had her mouth covered with both hands. No. It couldn't have been him, she thought.

"Hermione! Hey what's the matter?" Ron persisted.

She finally stuck out a hand and pointed to the files on the table. Ron looked back and forth between them and furrowed his brow.

"What is it? Did you see something?"

She finally retrieved her voice.

"…That…that man…"

"What man?"

Hermione stopped pointing and covered her mouth once more with both hands.

"Hermione what man!? What happened!?"

She shook her head vigorously, almost as if shaking the troubling thoughts in her head. "I-I know that man. The one with the mustache. The sketch."

Ron looked over to the table and noticed she had been pointing at the man impersonating as Jack the Ripper. It was the killer in London that he and Harry were investigating.

"You, you know this man? How do you know this man!?" he demanded.

Hermione finally looked at Ron in the eye and appeared to be absolutely terrified.

"Hermione how do you know that man!?" Ron insisted.

"I-I know him b-because I was just with him…"

Chapter Text

August 27, 2000 (5:24 pm)
Ministry of Magic – London, England

“Where the bloody hell are they?” Harry whispered to himself as he stormed through the empty black tiled hallways of the ninth level of the ministry. After getting Ron’s patronus message he immediately flooed to the ministry and was headed straight for the circular room where his best friends were to be awaiting.

Upon seeing Ron get slapped into the next millennia by Hermione Harry wasn’t sure to be frightened or relieved by the sight. At her request, he immediately went home to speak to Ginny to clear what had happened. Luckily for him, she wasn’t as persistent as Hermione and fully understood the demands of his investigation. However, Ginny had been upset that he had to be called so quickly again. A very close call he thought.

As Harry proceeded passed the large black door that led into the entrance chamber he looked around the marble floor of the circular room and the twelve handle less doors. Dimly lit candles with a cool blue flame floated above, illuminating the room. He stood there waiting, unknowing what to expect from Ron as no details were given to him about their next plan of action.

Hermione had walked in on them as Ron began unfolding the true extent of their investigation. Harry still couldn’t believe it. A whole other world where the dead roam for eternity and an entire new type of dark magic. Not to mention some new prophecy that told the coming of the apocalypse and Ron’s involvement. If what his best friend said was true, then the killers were responsible for attempting to bridge both worlds together. But how? It was all too strange and made very little sense, Harry thought.

In that moment, he remembered about the hall of prophecy and immediately looked to the right of him at one of the doors. He recalled the cold chamber with high ceilings and towering shelves lit with more blue-flame candles. He then wondered if it were possible that this supposed prophecy Ron was now a part of was within one of the glass orbs in that chamber.

Harry was taken out of his thoughts by the sound of a loud crack behind him. He quickly drew his wand and was surprised to see his two best friends appear before him.

“Ron! Hermione!” exclaimed Harry as the trio embraced together in a warm hug. “I almost cursed you lot! You two made up then?” Harry asked with a half grin on his face. This soon faltered at the realization that Hermione could apparate within that particular room. “Wait! Hermione! I thought you couldn’t—”

“Nettie mate,” replied an inpatient looking Ron. There was no time to waste as he knew the unspeakables would soon come out of the death chamber. Harry seemed to understand, no longer questioning Nettie’s powers after having his own injuries healed. He nodded his head in dismissal and shrugged his shoulders, but continued to smile happily at seeing the two of them together again. But they didn’t return the smile. Harry sensed something was off.

“What’s wrong?”

Hermione played with her sweaty hands as she looked at Ron worryingly. He was the one to speak. “Change of plans mate. We met here because as I mentioned to Hermione, the veil is the only sure way to cross onto Deadside. Nettie told me. The plan was to head into the death chamber and enter through there. But…things have changed...”

Harry looked confused at his best friend. “Hold on. You wanted to cross the veil in the death chamber? But that’s mad! Ron, we aren’t allowed in there. I thought Mike was going to meet us here and take you with that weird teddy bear portkey you went on about.”

Hermione could only look between them with an apprehensive expression. She too did not trust this plush toy to enable her boyfriend to travel back and forth between the land of the living and the dead.

Ron shook his head. “No mate. Mike is already in Deadside. Head start I guess. Nettie was the one who told me to go through here. It’s the only sure way to cross without fucking up. Mike will be able to bring us back with the bear, but since he’s already there this is the only sure way to go. It’ bloody complicated Harry. Sorry, I meant to tell you this before we…uhh, got interrupted,” he said looking sheepishly at Hermione. She rolled her eyes at him.

Harry seemed to finally follow along with what he was saying. “Right, so then what changed? Are you no longer going through the veil?”

Ron looked again to Hermione who continued to fidget with her hands and have a worried expression, but there was also a hint of fear in her eyes. Harry sensed it right away. “Something happened. What is it?” he asked bluntly to them both.

Ron took a deep breath and rummaged his hair through his fingers. “Don’t be alarmed, and I’m not taking the fucking piss, but Hermione found him,” he uttered, lifting the muggle report on the serial killer classified as Jack II.

Harry looked at him astonishingly. “What do you mean she found him?” he implored with a serious tone. He then moved his gaze to Hermione who held the fear in her eyes and was trying, but failing to avoid his stare.

She cleared her throat before she spoke. “Harry…I went to get coffee. You know, to try to clear my head from the what I saw between the two of you. From Ron leaving through the vortex and you hurt,” she murmured. “Well…I went to this coffee shop nearby to think things clearly and logically and I happened to come by the exact same man in that artist’s impression photo. The same man killing innocent muggles here in London,” she said as Ron gave Harry the artist’s drawing of the aforementioned killer.

Harry’s eyes became wide and his breathing increased. Suddenly the temperature of the room became cold and his heart sank. “Hermione where did you see him!? We have to find him! Ron! This is our chance!”

Ron nodded in agreement, but seemed almost too composed. He handed the entire group of files within the muggle report to Harry. He drew out his wand and gave it a swish, creating a floating map of London for them to see. He pointed to the location of a coffee shop. “This is where Hermione said she last saw him. But he’s gone Harry.” Ron then faced Hermione and motioned to Harry with his arm. “Tell him what you told me.”

Harry glanced towards Hermione and noticed she seemed a bit calmer after collecting herself and no longer playing with her hands. “I was talking to him,” she started, which made Harry have a bewildered look.

“You talked to him? Why? Did he try to hurt you!? What happened?”

Hermione shook her head vigorously. “No, no. He was…he was…” She looked nervously at Ron who now had an angered look in his eye and held his arms crossed. “He was quite nice actually. He was a gentleman, if I’m honest. He needed money for a coffee. I guess he had forgotten his wallet and so I offered to help him. We then talked for a mome—”

“Talked about what!?” Harry pressed, now looking unimpressed and indignant.

“Nothing important. He saw that I was crying so it was just boy problems,” she muttered while looking at Ron shyly. He still maintained the look of anger in his eyes. “But he said he had to catch a train to see his sister, which doesn’t make much sense if he had no money to begin with…” she said now realizing the true extent of the situation.

The Aurors exchanged anxious glances and appeared to be thinking the same thing. He had let up. They knew they had to search for him and both gazed at Jack’s file remembering his motif of preying on women in the late hours around the underground stations in London. Ron spoke. “Harry, we both know his arse has to go down. But you have to do this without me mate. I still have to help Mike with, well, you know.”

Harry looked at his friend incredulously, appearing to look even more annoyed if possible. “Ron, but we can gain the upper hand here! Blimey, do you even realize how close we are!? If we look around for clues—”

“No mate. I have to do this. Those five tossers are looking for a way to bridge into Deadside and are somehow linked in this end of the world rubbish. I’m still not sure what the bloody hell my role in any of this is, but the more time I spend looking around for clues, the closer they are at succeeding. Harry, you have to trust me on this.”

Harry looked toward Hermione who was now staring at the dark marble floor with deep concern and a sad expression. You could see her reflection as the ground appeared much like standing water. It seemed as if she understood what Ron was saying, even if she didn’t like it.

Harry still believed they had a chance to bring the muggle killer down if they used the report and their newfound knowledge of a possible location to pinpoint his whereabouts. “Ron, I know you’ve found out lots about this investigation and have to leave but—”

“Trust me on this Harry! Both of you! This isn’t just dark wizards anymore. It’s bigger than all of us. I know I can count on the both of you to help me. We can do it together,” Ron asserted with a sanguine voice.

Hermione lifted her gaze to offer a small smile and look at him proudly. So much has the boy with the dirt on his nose grown she thought. Ron was now a fine man and a great wizard. She couldn’t be happier to see what he’s become. He had a burning passion for achieving his goal at all costs and confidence was reflected in his eye. The display made Hermione lose her breath for a moment.

Harry appeared to look defeated and was only able to sigh and nod in agreement. No more doubts this time, he thought. “Fine. I guess I can do this. I just hope you know keeping Robards and the team away from what’s going on is gonna be difficult. Not to mention your family.”

Ron smiled and looked at his girlfriend. “Well, that’s where Hermione comes in. She’s got a plan. Bloody brilliant by the way.”

Hermione’s cheeks became pink, but she held her smile and appeared affirmed at Harry.

The boy who lived continued. “Well then. What’s the plan? And why did you have me bring this?” Harry queried as he held the cloak of invisibility in his hand. Hermione looked at it curiously and was immediately reminded of their adventures during their days at Hogwarts.

“We’ll need that to bypass the unspeakables. They’re nearly done with their shift and will be heading out of the death chamber soon. I was going to convince Audrey to let us in, but the Imperius curse will work better.”

“What!?” Harry exclaimed in horror. “Ron, they backlog the forbidden curses. You aren’t—”

“Yes he is Harry,” said Hermione, now looking displeased. “It’s barbaric and a long story. But just like Nettie healed you and allowed me to apparate into this room, she has also granted Ron’s wand to be untraced and will be able to bypass the unforgivable curses.”

Wide eyed and astonished, Harry looked to Ron who gave him his famous lopsided grin. “Not bad huh? Might actually work, right?”

Harry now looked impressed and astounded. It seemed that his best friend really had thought this through. “Well then, I guess it just might. We’d better hurry though. They’re about to come out.”

Just as he finished his sentence, the twelve handle less doors began spinning in motion, indicating the exit of the unspeakables. The trio immediately joined closely together as Harry unfolded the cloak and placed it over their heads.

The doors stopped spinning and out came the unspeakables from the death chamber with their unique black colored robes. Apparently, each unspeakable researching in each of the rooms operated at different times and were never within that entrance chamber at the same time. It was lucky that the individuals working at this hour were the ones studying death.

The trio struggled to move to the left-hand side of the circular room under the cloak to avoid being noticed or trampled over. They were looking around at the people who were silently exiting the door and finally out came Audrey.

Harry pointed his finger in her direction and Ron and Hermione acknowledged her. Moving ever so silently, they retreated to the large black door by the entrance chamber’s exit to avoid inadvertently cursing someone else.

As Audrey approached them, Ron took out his wand and aimed it towards her. “Imperio,” he whispered as the spell hit Audrey straight on the head mildly, causing her to stop in her tracks. Ron whispered a command as she began blinking and looked around at the other unspeakables. She then turned around and headed back toward the door leading to the death chamber.

The last unspeakable came about as she stopped Audrey right in her tracks. “You’re going back in? What have you forgotten?” she asked suspiciously.

The trio were standing behind Audrey and at the same time gulped with nervousness. Ron whispered something again behind Audrey’s ear to which she then coughed and looked at the woman with the same nervous impression the trio had. “I’m sorry ma’am, but I’ve forgotten a gift I was going to give to my boyfriend. It’ll just be a minute if you don’t mind me,” she said so eloquently.

The female unspeakable looked at her curiously with narrowed eyes and then back at the others who were leaving. No one appeared to have been paying them any attention. The woman thought for a second, but then sighed and nodded. “Fine. Go quickly. Remember they don’t want us here after hours. And don’t touch anything else or you’ll regret it. Have a good day.” And with that, the woman stormed off to the large black door.

The trio sighed in relief. Ron hadn’t noticed the sweat that was pouring from his pores despite the chilling air. Hermione couldn’t stop gaping at her boyfriend with such wonder and admiration. The same look of love she had given for every time he surprised her with quick and smart thinking.

Ron had noticed her blissful smile. “Pretty good huh,” he muttered with a stupid grin on his face.

Hermione continued to beam at him. “Not good. Brilliant.”

Harry rolled his eyes at the display and pushed the two out of their little moment, which earned him a small ‘prat’ in retort by Ron. Audrey proceeded to the door leading to the death chamber and the trio followed suit behind her.

They continued until they were now within the large, rectangular, dimly lit room. They looked ahead at the sunken stone pit in the center of the room with the raised stone dais upon it. The ancient crumbling stone archway stood on the dais and there revealed the veil.

The scene made Harry reminiscent of the battle against the death eaters in their fifth year. The moment when his last bit of family had been murdered. This time it was he who was taken out of his thoughts by Ron’s push. “Right, let’s go.”

Audrey headed down the steps and proceeded onto the stone pit with the trio accompanied behind her. As they reached the veil Harry finally removed the cloak and looked around to survey the area. “You sure we’re alone?”

Audrey was the one to speak. “Yes,” she said bluntly, blinking quickly and looking to the others for agreement.

“Right then,” started Ron. “I guess this is it then.” He took a deep breath and noticed his heart hadn’t stopped pounding since cursing Audrey.

Harry looked at Hermione anxiously, waiting for her response. Much to his surprise, she ran straight into Ron with a tough embrace and suddenly she began sobbing all over again. He smiled and looked at them both, embraced and in love, with the fate of the world hanging again in the balance.

“You can’t…”

“Hermione…”

“Please. We can think of something else. There’s no guarantee—”

Ron moved her body so he could face her. He moved her soft curls behind her ear and smiled at the beautiful doe brown eyes he’d come to love. “No, there isn’t a guarantee about anything. But you trust me. And I’d do the same for you if you were in my place. As much as it pains you.”

She remained uneasy and could not move, just like still water from a pond after a storm. “I know…b-but if something were to happen to you…I-I couldn’t—”

Hermione began shedding a wave of new tears like a thin river’s flow, attempting and failing to control herself. Ron peeked at his other best friend. Harry offered a sheepish smile and merely shook his head. “Hermione, he’ll be okay. I know because I trust him. He’s a fine wizard and will be able to handle whatever is on the other side. Remember what he’s doing this for.”

Hermione continued to embrace Ron more tightly and then moved her head onto his shoulder. Ron could feel the wet tears through his robes, but he didn’t care. All that mattered to him was remembering her smell and hoping to see her again. He knew this wouldn’t be the last moment between them.

She was trying to convince herself the same. “I do trust you. And I’ll never stop loving you,” she pledged as she then stole a kiss from his lips. Ron had expected the aesthetic delight and returned her kiss with an ardent one of his own and at that moment he became enamored all over again. Their tongues fought for dominance, they wiggled, they pulsated, and made contortive sweeps through each other’s mouths with such zeal and craving that made them helpless with eyes clenched shut, unconditionally in a trance of intimacy.

It was insane to imagine how much love and desire electrified his body with a soft kiss from Hermione. She didn’t want this moment to stop. It was as if time had halted for them to remain in that moment within each other’s grasp. The yearning for each other’s love that fueled them to their core.

But it was short lived as Ron knew in the back of his mind he had to stop despite wanting to go the distance. It took all his might to retract back from her soft lips to catch a glimpse of her face and wipe away her tears. He began remembering every detail of her soft skin and earthy hues of her brown eyes. “I’ll always love you too. I’ll be back before you know it,” he said beaming at her.

Hermione returned his smile and then gave a small laugh, letting a few more tears escape, though these were of content and euphoria. “You better. You’re stuck with me, I’m afraid.”

Ron gave a small chuckle. “Bloody right you are.” They embraced once more before letting go. Hermione continued to wipe the tears from her face as Ron then went over to Harry to embrace him in a manly hug. “Take care of her mate. And my family. Your family. Whatever happens, please.”

Harry let go and looked at him keenly and nodded his head. “I will. Don’t get yourself get killed git. If this place is really what you say it is, then the worst things imaginable are gonna be there. Please keep your guard up. And stay safe mate. We’ll be waiting for you.”

Ron nodded. “Remember, I’m not sure how long I’ll be there. Time is literally non-existent there. I’ll be in contact when I can be. Go find that arsehole,” he spoke, which Harry gestured in understanding. Ron had already informed him of the time part. Hermione appeared to know as well as she didn’t seem surprised one bit by this fact.

Ron then stood in front of the veil, shallow whispers could be heard on the other side. He turned to face Audrey and commanded one last time with his wand aimed at her. “Audrey, you’re gonna leave the department and go home as planned. You won’t remember any of this.”

At this, Audrey quickly turned without a word and began heading back to the steps that lead to the entrance of the death chamber. “You lot better hurry. Use the cloak and get the bloody hell out of here. Find that killing bastard and anything else that can help with the case. I’ll be back soon.”

Harry and Hermione gave a gentle smile before embracing each other once more as a trio. Hermione held onto Ron a bit longer as Harry now headed back with Audrey. She planted another small kiss on Ron’s lips. “I’m so proud of you. Please be safe. Please…just come back to me.”

Ron grinned once more and held a twinkle in his eye. He gave her one last hug before Hermione hurried away with Harry. She hid underneath the cloak with him and walked up to the steps with Audrey. They stopped to look down at him as Ron faced the veil once more.

He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and slowly entered, finally crossing onto the dimension beyond death. Harry and Hermione looked on as they saw the spirit of their best friend leave this world.

A final tear managed to break away free from Hermione. “Be…safe…”


August 27, 2000 (12:24 pm)

Gardelle County Penitentiary – Texas, United States

The hot, humid Texas weather was as evident as ever within the prison walls of Gardelle Penitentiary. The sticky and grimy cells on each of the floors of the wings, now connecting with scattered dry blood and motionless corpses began to give a foul stench in the air. The endless alarm system of the prison was all that was heard in the background, save for the police sirens and shouting from the gathering of police officials around the outside enclosure of the prison.

An invisible blockade was preventing armed forces from entering, which provided the three killers with much needed time to carry out their master’s diabolical plan. They had been instructed to initiate a riot and clear out the prison for the beginning of the creation of the schism that would bridge the prison to Deadside. Although, with each passing moment, the three-mindless serial killers chosen by Legion began to get hasty and heedless.

“How much longer are we gonna be cooped up in here boy!?” exclaimed an overweight, bald, white man with a thick mustache. He was wearing military styled green cargo pants, black boots, and a green muscle shirt. He was holding an assault rifle with both arms and had a pump shotgun over his shoulder. He had the appearance of a soldier at war, except for his questionable weight.

“You’re beginning to get on my nerves Mr. Pike,” spoke Victor Batrachian calmly. The two serial killers were inside the west wing of the prison, now filled with empty cells. The only others in that wing were several inmates and guards on the floor that lay dead. They had killed most of them during the riot and their bloodied bodies were now dispersed throughout the prison. Some headless, some without limbs and others completely intact. However, there were a select few that helped patrol the area, willingly serving the five’s twisted lord.

Victor was the leader of the five and in charge to get things done appropriately as ordered by Legion. He sported the complete orange jumpsuit of a prisoner and maintained his short receding dark hair and brown skin. He was elegantly calm and hardly ever raised his voice. His tranquil demeanor and fearless expression was so chilling, but this didn’t faze Milton one bit. Victor continued. “Our master has given us clear instructions and we are to follow his wishes. You wouldn’t want to be on his bad side, now would you?” He warned softly with a smile.

Milton Pike, the overweight soldier-looking killer gave a short snicker. “Hah! Judgement day can’t come fast enough!” he snapped. “We’ve been in this damn prison for too long not to wreak havoc and kill these sons of bitches! Letting Jack and that psychotic asshole in New York free is what pisses me off! And we’re the ones still stuck here! This is our world now!” he shouted as he let off a few rounds from his rifle into the ceiling of the prison wing. Victor didn’t move or react, seemingly unimpressed by his outburst.

“Yoooooo man! Watch where you shoot that thing!” exclaimed an exuberant voice.

Victor looked to his left where in came Marco Cruz, the third killer in Gardelle employed by Legion and one of the five, from a corridor that lead to another wing. He covered his head with his arms to avoid being hit by the ricocheted bullets. Marco was wearing the same orange prison pants as Victor, but instead of the orange top he wore a blue Hawaiian shirt with green palm trees on it and only buttoned it up halfway, revealing his hairy chest. He sported a white cap to go along with it. He appeared to be of Hispanic descent.

Milton stopped shooting and faced him, laughing at his disguise. “Bahahaha! Look at this imbecile! You’re looking real Miami lover boy! Give Scarface back his shirt will ya? Where the hell did ya even get that thing?” questioned Milton, who was unable to keep his head from rolling back in laughter.

Marco simply grinned as he looked at himself surveying his look. “Hehe, found it in some office. Not only that, but also a sound system to play my disco music. We’ll be grooving from here ‘til Deadside boys!” he hollered while beginning to dance like if he were at a discotheque.

Marco was the most flamboyant of the five and the loudest. He spoke fast and always seemed to be in a ‘groovy’ mood despite the circumstances. This caused much annoyance to Victor and the others, but especially Milton, considering he was a Vietnam veteran that hated any hint of foolishness and had a short temper.

Victor finally stood and faced Marco. “Do you have any idea how idiotic and pathetic you sound right now?” he said again in a calm manner. “Just like a child, you can never take things seriously.”

His words caused Marco to stop dancing to face Victor with wide open arms. “Whooaaaa! Hold on there man! I’m just as serious as can be. Unlike ol’ Milton here, I’m over-fucking whelmed with excitement at the turn of events! Just you wait!” he appealed with such gusto offering a witty smile.

Victor merely shook his head and turned to walk away from him, now taking interest at the dozens of headless bodies on the floor.

Milton then aimed his rifle towards Marco, putting his finger near the trigger. “I should just blow you the hell up now huh!?” he proclaimed, causing Marco to throw his head back in laughter.

“Hahahahaha! We’ve been through this Millie! We can’t die! Shoot! Oh, hey here, I’ll help you out,” he urged as he pulled out a pistol. “You wanna hit me…rightttt…aboutttt…here!” he commanded, aiming the pistol on his right temple, keeping the witty smile on his face and batting his eyelashes rapidly as if seducing him for the kill.

The sight at hand made Milton want to throw up. He looked unamused and wanted to stop playing games more than anything. Marco continued to look at him with a witty smile before pulling the trigger. The sound of the hammer clicking caused Milton to flinch and Victor to look back at him.

Yet, nothing happened. It was empty. “Hahahahaha! Not today boys! We’ve got business to attend to!” He raved as he began to dance again without control.

This caused Milton to snicker again and put his rifle down. “You’re fucking crazy ya know that?”

Marco stopped again almost immediately in a funny pose. “Oh! No way man! That ice cold killing machine of Avery Marx is the crazy one! Abused by his mother, splitting couples in half and using their skin as furniture!? Whoooo! It don’t get crazier than that! Or how ‘bout ol’ Jackie! Cutting up his false lovers to unlock immortality! He must’ve done something right ‘cuz it worked!”

Milton pinched the bridge of his nose with closed eyes and attempted with all his might not to shoot him in the face. He saw Marco begin dancing again and looked at Victor who had a calm, ominous glare towards Marco.

Then suddenly, the air in the room dropped. The suffocating and humid air changed to a more chilling and unnerving atmosphere. “Cruz is right,” spoke a menacing and deep sinister echo of voices blended into one evil tone. The same tone that was the only thing the five were afraid of and have come to respect.

They turned their backs and faced the man with the bleeding mouth and ice blue eyes from the darkness. It was Legion. The floor beneath him began forming a small puddle of blood from the disturbing flow that came from his mouth.

The three killers immediately got on one knee and bowed to their master. They didn’t say a word.

“Rise,” spoke Legion again menacingly. The three quickly stood and faced him directly, now seeming more serious than ever. “The prophecy is coming as spoken. Jack is now carrying his side of the plan and so you three must do your part. Avery already knows what to do. The Shadow Man, as I’ve already told you, is coming. He will make his way from Deadside with the red headed Auror through the schism you have constructed. It’s only a matter of time now. Make him and Mr. Weasley feel…welcome,” he declared with such an unsettling and petrifying smile.

The three bowed to their master once more and yelled in unison, “For we are many!”

Upon looking up once more the three killers found that Legion was gone, save for a deep frightening laugh that echoed through the cells of the prison wing. Victor looked at them both. “Let’s get ready…for apocalypse…gentlemen.”


Marrow Gates – Deadside

The sounds of screeching spirits and endless crying echoed through Mike’s ears. The moans of the souls of the dead were everlasting, but in a way, were welcoming as he was back to the place he now called home. He couldn’t recall the amount of time he spent here, but it was his place of rest after becoming the Shadow Man.

Deadside was a very dark and gloomy wasteland. No light was ever present in the sky and temperature remained cool and distant just as the light from a dying star. Blood replaced the water in this realm that seemed to be as void as a dead man’s gaze. Mike remained unperturbed as he was now used to living in hell.

He looked up at the spellbinding dark sky that was covered in a mixture of dark green and black clouds. He then inspected the environment around him. He was standing in a small pond of blood with a bloodfall behind and a tall stone pillar in front of him. The scene appeared to be like an oasis with narrow hilltops surrounding the pond. The area was no bigger than a basketball court and on the other side was a walkway that led to the one place he was now headed to. The Marrow Gates.

“I am the lord of Deadside – shadow born at the confluence of worlds to walk between. Liveside is without the meaning that my partly living possesses here in Deadside, where the darkness is manifest at the edges of reason. As a god, I step forth upon the writhing suppurating surface of the Deadside serpent. What sleep is here? What dreams there are in the unctuous coilings of the snake’s mortal shuffling. Weapon in my hand. My hand, the arcing deathblow at the end of all things. The horror. The horror. I embrace it.”

He treaded along the blood and went around the stone pillar to head onto the walkway. Upon getting out of the bloody pond, he was surprised by a shrieking demon that he came to know as a ‘wailer.” They were grey colored humanoid creatures from head to toe, hairless, with red eyes and a shrieking voice that sucked the life of anyone who came close to them.

Mike didn’t find them a threat as several blows from his shadow gun made for any easy killing. “Ah, here to welcome me back uh? Well then, here’s a little something from me,” he said as he pulled out his shadow gun and pulled the trigger several times, causing the gun to emit multiple bright blue green aura beams with a horrendous loud sound.

They hit the demon straight on the chest causing it to shriek even more before having its body blown to bits, leaving a red ball of light behind. This red ball of light represented the soul of the demons that roamed Deadside. Every time Mike defeated one, they always left one behind. It was their soul, which would often leave immediately to travel beyond.

Mike analyzed it for a bit before it flew up and headed to the sky. “Hmph, almost too easy. Gotta find Jaunty.”

He continued along the walkway and noticed the walls of the hillsides on both his sides were dark and slimy of filth and blood. The air remained cool and the place sustained the same foul odor, of death. Not further along did the walkway lead him into another large space that was enclosed by connecting high hillsides and a tall bone-like gate.

There were two large horns that appeared like fangs coming out of the ground from the center of the area that resembled an archway some twenty feet tall. Small pits of fire lined behind them that created some form of pathway opposite to where Mike stood, to the place he needed to cross. The closed Marrow Gates. The gated doors had the same appearance of a human ribcage and were about the same height as the fangs if not taller.

Mike surveyed the area for a moment. “Jaunty?” he whispered, moving his head in all directions of the small area looking for his old friend. He heard a swift hissing sound and quickly turned around pointing his gun ready to blast whatever was stalking him.

“Ah don’t shoot Michael! I’ve been through nuff sufferin’ already!” exclaimed a dark serpent that appeared to be fifteen feet long. However, his head was replaced with that of a skull with red eyes that wore a tall wide hat on top. It was Jaunty.

“Jaunty! Don’t be sneaking up on me like that! You would’ve been just as good for nothing like the rest of the wailers here!” grunted Mike while lowering his weapon. In other circumstances, he would offer a handshake or even a manly embrace, but since his friend had the body of a snake, Mike preferred to keep his distance.

“Hehe, it’s been too long me ol’ friend! I know how much ya hate surprises,” Jaunty surmised in his Irish accent. He slithered around Mike and took his place near one of the fangs coming out of the floor. “Tell me Michael! How’s death treatin’ ya?”

Jaunty has had quite the history with dark magic. He was the unfortunate victim of a kidnapping one late night in Dublin by a muggle cult committing occult rituals who sacrificed him as a result. He would have been condemned to an eternity in Deadside had it not been for Nettie, who spoke to him from across the veil and convinced him to join her, to be her eyes and ears in Deadside as the guardian of the Marrow Gates. His reward would be that of a new body and a chance to ‘live’ again.

However, the specifics of the deal could not have been thoroughly worked out, for Jaunty appears in Deadside as a combination of a serpent with a skull for a head. His Liveside body became that of a disfigured dwarf. In either incarnation, Jaunty is not a pretty sight, and not much of a fighter either—hence Nettie’s need for Mike.

“Jaunty, kindly refer to me as Shadow Man. Michael LeRoi has no place here in Deadside,” said Mike while crossing his arms in dissent.

“Whatever, Mick–it’s good to see ya again,” spoke Jaunty moving his upper body side to side in amusement. “Seems like simply ages since I last set me eyes on your happy, smiling mug.”

Mike remained crossed armed and stoic. “The feeling’s mutual.”

The serpent’s tail waved back and forth, making Jaunty seem like a child with ADHD. “I suppose you’ve been away dallying with the old battle-axe. Giving her one with some of that righteous voodoo so’s she can stay forever young?”

“Something like that,” uttered Mike, now tilting his head to the side and shrugging his shoulders.

Jaunty seemed delighted with a shake of his head. “She’s been filling your head with her fetid pillow talk again, I’ll bet–Doomsdaying and Armagiddying until you’re drunk with the stuff.”

“She did happen to mention a certain prophetic dream she’s been having…”

Jaunty finally remained still at the mention of a prophetic dream. “Did she now? Well, for once I think the old witch might be right. See that bloody big tower yonder?” he asked turning his gaze above and beyond the Marrow Gates where there appeared a massive black coliseum-like building that resembled the Tower of Babel.

The Shadow Man followed Jaunty’s gaze past the Marrow Gates where the huge dark tower lay. He hadn’t noticed it from the small oasis of blood he was in, but from in front of the gates it was impossible not to be viewed. “How could I miss it?” he said passively.

The serpent began edging closer to the gates and slithered along the pathway of fire pits. “Well, old Bruegel, the medieval painter blokie was just telling me the other day that he thought it looked remarkably like a picture he once did.”

Mike scratched his chin, still gazing at the tower. “Is that Pieter Bruegel?”

“No. Seamus. His distant Irish cousin. Anyways, he was quite shocked, so he was, at the terrible mess that bloody thing’s making. Appearing out of nowhere and tearing its way through the place like there’s no tomorrow. Which, given what Nettie’s saying, might not be too far from the truth.”

“Any idea what’s going on in there?” Mike asked, unable to move his eyes away at the remarkable sight of the dark tower.

Jaunty looked back to him and shook his head. “Nope—and I shan’t be knocking on the front door to find out neither. All I’ll say is, if there’s something wicked heading this way, it’ll be coming from in there,” he remarked, motioning with his skull head in the direction of the tower.

Mike finally removed his stare to the tower and looked back to Jaunty with a curious expression that was unseen through his glowing blue aura colored eyes. “Nettie mentioned the Dark Souls—can you tell me anymore about them?”

Jaunty shook his skull head once more. “I’m afraid I’ll have to reply in the negative again, Michael. Suffice it to say, Nettie’s told me that they’re bloody powerful, well nigh indestructible and shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.”

“Any idea where they might be?”

“What—am I a Dark Soul travel guide now? I suppose ya could try all of the ancient sacred places down among the wailers and shiverers. I just hope that none of them souls have ended up in that filthy big black tower.”

Mike sighed and he too walked along the pathway to the Marrow Gates. “From what Nettie was saying, some of ‘em already have—which is all the more reason for me to be pushing on. Plus, Ginger is gonna help me find ‘em. In fact, he should be here any minute,” he wondered, looking around with a puzzled look.

“Ginger ya say? Now that ya mention it, I did see a red headed blokie come an’ go from the direction you just came from. Wrong turn at the boneyard?” snickered Jaunty.

The snicker made Mike narrow his glowing eyes at him. “Shit! Why didn’t you mention this to me before? He could be—”

But before Mike could finish his sentence a loud screech could be heard echoing from the opposite walkway that made him and Jaunty turn their heads in unison. The screech sounded louder and closer with each passing second and finally became audibly coherent.

“Bloody hell! Bloody hell! BLOODY HELL!!” shouted a flash of red who had a trail of tall, zombie-looking demons with sharp blades as hands behind him. They resembled the wailer that Mike had fought previously, but these had a darker appearance and were more vicious.

“Shit! It’s Weasley! He found the duppies!” exclaimed Mike, knowing just exactly why he was running and screaming. These zombie-like creatures were ferocious and tough to deal with as they were extremely deadly with their quick slashing movements and fast pace. In addition, their loud growls made for a terrifying sound that was enough to send a chill up anyone’s spine.

“BLOODY HELL!!!” screamed Ron as he finally exited the walkway and entered the area where Mike and Jaunty were. The ear-piercing growls of the duppies caused Jaunty to hide in a nearby alcove, not to Mike’s surprise.

Ron had taken notice of Mike and the serpent slithering away quickly before gazing upon the large fangs and the Marrow Gates. He quickly sprinted in his direction, panting from all the running he had done to escape the demons. “Mike! Bloody hell are those things! I can’t curse them!”

“Get a grip! Most of the spells you know in your magical world won’t work in this place. Here, stay back. I’ll handle this,” he said aiming his gun towards the malevolent beasts that now began heading straight for Mike. Before Ron was able to catch his breath, he headed for an alcove himself, attempting to keep away from the battle.

“Not today assholes!” Mike bellowed before letting off several rounds from his gun, giving out the familiar loud sound that resembled a train horn. There were four creatures that were all hit directly in the chest with the bright blue green aura beams. However, they did not falter so easy as the wailer had done and just kept running at Mike.

“Shit!” he grunted as he began running around the small area continuing to pull the trigger, causing more beams to hit his chasers on the chest. The duppies’ growls grew louder, but they kept on rushing towards Mike and moved their arms in a scissor-like motion to slash him. Ron sat in the alcove breathing heavily with his heart racing and seeming hopeless in that moment.

After crossing the veil, Ron had landed in a completely different location than Mike’s. Although, it was still nearby some of the pathways that led along to the small oasis of blood with the large stone pillar. Ron was unsure of what to expect after he crossed into the void and the first impression he had of Deadside was even worse than hell. The dark and evil atmosphere in the sky, the dullness and tenebrosity of his surroundings and the chilling ambience made him tense and anxious. The endless screams, shrieks and cries from Deadside continued to reverberate through his ears, causing him to be highly strung.

Upon walking around the area he had landed in to search for Mike, high shrieks of utter terror could be heard closing in on him, until he was finally able to comprehend what Harry had meant by ‘worse things than nightmares imaginable,’ things that his Auror training had not prepared him for.

Despite yelling every stunning or immobilization curse he knew, nothing had worked on the howling demons. His magic in this realm seemed futile, and so the only other thing he could think of was to run, run blindly in any direction hoping to find Mike, until he stopped at the Marrow Gates, where he now lay hiding.

Ron continued to panic and breathe heavily, never leaving his gaze from Mike being chased by the malicious creatures roaring behind him. Suddenly, he had a thought. Perhaps charms would work instead of shouting curses.

At that moment, he exited the small alcove and aimed his wand at the four duppies. He gave his wand a swish and flick motion and yelled, “Wingardium Leviosa!”

Just then the creatures were elevated into the air with even more menacing growls, flinging their sharp bladed arms in all directions to fight uselessly against gravity. Mike looked on in amazement and then to Ron who was trying his best not to disrupt his concentration.

“Hurry! Now’s your chance! Blow those fucking things apart!” Ron yelled at Mike, who didn’t hesitate and began channeling his shadow powers onto his gun, ripping aura beam after beam to the four creatures lifted in the air.

With one last growl, the bodies of the duppies began to glow and rip apart, just as the first wailer had done. The only remains left were that of four red balls of light that flew into the dark sky. They had done it.

“Bloody crispy Michael! And to think you needed this fine lad’s wand work!” exclaimed a very relieved and joyful looking Jaunty, now slithering out of the alcove.

“Thanks for your help Jaunty,” spoke Mike sarcastically, causing Jaunty to feign dismay. “That was quick thinking ginger. Maybe you’ll get along just fine here.”

Ron panted and struggled to catch his breath at the small battle that just took place. He was bent over and looked at the bloodied ground near the fangs and then to Mike. “What the bloody hell were those things!? Is that what we have to deal with here? Fucking demons and shit!?”

Mike nodded. “Even worse than that. You’ll see. These were duppies, savage creatures that look for anything to slash and are quick on their feet. The monsters that lie ahead don’t even compare to them. Remember, some of the spells you learned do not work here. I’m not sure why, but just a warning. That one levitation spell managed to work, so keep that in mind next time.”

Ron finally stood and looked a bit shaky taking in Jaunty’s appearance, recalling Voldemort’s snake, Nagini. “Y-you…you’re a snake…”

Jaunty rattled his tail and began moving sideways again. “And ya look like a bloody wanker in the wrong world!” The serpent slithered around Ron’s body, causing the red head to gulp with nervousness. For a moment after hearing his voice he recalled his old friend Seamus from Hogwarts as they had a similar tone in voice. “Ah, don’t piss ya pants lad! I’m not gonna bite ya head off! Some bloody good work ya did! Levitatin’ the slashers and boom! Way to go! Just like I would’ve done it.”

Mike rolled his eyes, put his shadow gun away and headed to the front of the Marrow Gates again. “Jaunty, we don’t have time. We have to cross and find the Dark Souls Nettie was talking about. Open the gates,” he commanded.

“Anyways lad, pleasure meetin’ ya! Me name’s Jaunty, ol’ slitherin’ serpent here in Deadside at your service! You?” he said to Ron.

Ron gulped once more and was about to extend his hand when he thought better of it after surveying his appearance. “Ron. Ron Weasley.”

Jaunty moved his head in surprise. “Weasley? Ah, I recall a Weasley somewhere here! What was his name again? Ted? Ned?”

The nervous look in Ron’s eyes escaped as he narrowed them at the serpent, his heart racing once more. He couldn’t be talking about his late brother Fred, could he? He was unable to speak as he was beat by an inpatient Mike. “Open the gates, Jaunty!”

Jaunty then faced Mike and slithered in front of him by the entrance to the gates. “Places to go, people to see eh, Michael?”

“Just open the gates, Jaunty!”

“Did I ever tell you about the time me and Attila the Hun were playing skittles with the guillotined heads of French aristocracy?”

“Jaunty!” scowled Mike, finally beginning to lose his temper.

The snake sensed this and shook his body back in defeat. “All right, all right, keep yer bloody hair on—which, looking at your shining bonce, may prove to be rather difficult. Open Sesame!”

At his words, the tall rib caged gates began opening, producing a loud squeal of old hinges. The gates hadn’t been opened within a century since the last Shadow Man walked the spiritual plane. Jaunty’s task was fulfilled at having protected the evil from escaping into the ‘less calm’ part of Deadside where they were located.

“There! They’re open! And if you’d be wantin’ to pop by and chat a while, I’ll still be here. It’s just a shame we can’t share a drop of the hard stuff together by a roaring peat fire eh Michael?” Jaunty exclaimed with his red eyes and twirl of his slimy scaled body.

Mike looked at him sternly as he was walking forth beyond the gates. Ron followed suit closely behind, still having narrowed eyes kept at the snake at having heard of another Weasley here in Deadside. It had to be Fred he thought. Mike shook him out of his thoughts “I don’t drink…with snakes…” he said calmly.

Jaunty arched his body and moved his head back as if taken aback by Mike’s remarks.

“Let’s go ginger. Let’s get these Dark Souls.”

Chapter Text

Beyond the Marrow Gates – Deadside

Deadside was like an endless maze filled with many tunnels, twists, turns, and dark corners that made Ron's head turn like vertigo. The sky maintained the dark green and black clouds without any change of the chilling atmosphere. The environment smelled of death. There was no sunshine, no plants, no infrastructure, and no sign of life from any direction. Only small puddles of blood were found dispersed along the slimy dark ground, but there was no water or biological evidence for existence or viability. Deadside was a place of no rest, where intense anguish and isolation offered permanent residence to those now condemned to eternal suffering.

Mike said it was a place of torment and punishment for those with tainted hearts in the world of the living. Ron questioned if this place was truly the resting grounds for all those that passed away, even the good ones. Fred had been on his mind, as well as others he had known that died during the war; those that gave their life to help Harry in his quest to defeat the dark lord. Mike mentioned that good souls do go to a segregated location in Deadside, apart from the evil they were in, but he himself had never been. It was far beyond from where they were now.

After Jaunty had opened the gates, they came out of a small tunnel that led into a large open area surrounded by different levels of stone platforms and ledges that were inhabited by more shrieking wailers. There was a tunnel at the top of a ledge with similar horn-like fangs as those by the Marrow Gates coming out of the ground. Mike had pointed in that direction and told Ron that was their destination. However, since the tunnel lay far above and was unreachable from the area they had traversed into, the duo was making their way by using a different route.

Many other pathways across the large area were present, which only made it too easy to get lost for anyone not familiar, but not for Mike. He had already crossed and traveled beyond every one of these paths and knew by heart which way to reach the top. All Ron could do was follow Mike across the dark and slimy passageways of Deadside, only lit by small orange flames within gas lamps that resembled those from the 1800's and came out from the rock-like walls.

Ron attempted to recall the trails they were travelling through just as he was drilled to do so in his Auror training, but it was hopeless. Almost after every turn, no matter how quiet they traveled, out came a shrieking demon, or a flying gargoyle that attempted to waste them on their feet. Mike had taken Ron into his wing and together they fought off many enemies as they had done so by the Marrow Gates. Blows from Mike's shadow gun and more of Ron's charms were used effectively to eliminate any threat in their way. These little skirmishes were proving to make it difficult to remember the network of paths and hedges. Ron thought it best to keep his guard up for any more surprises.

Mike was impressed at Ron's ability to adapt to Deadside and fighting with limited use of magic. He had been skeptical at how he was to help him recover the Dark Souls, but with every demon they extinguished, with his composed and self-assured demeanor he sustained, the more he had come to respect him. Nonetheless, he knew the area they were in was much more lenient than what other horrors awaited them. He just had to wait and see if Ron was truly prepared for what was in store. The only thing on Mike's mind was thinking about where to find the beehive-like structures known as Govi that Nettie had mentioned.

This was much different than what Ron was pondering over. Despite the many fears and terrors that he had already gone through with Mike, Ron couldn't stop thinking about Hermione. His only beam of light in that damned place. Everything he had witnessed thus far was enough to drive a man insane, but he had her in his heart and in his mind to help him keep going. Through each passageway they walked and ledge they had to climb, past every demon, and shriek of utter horror, Hermione was the one gleam of hope he latched onto. She was still with him, he thought.

He wondered what had become of her now. It felt like hours since he first crossed the veil, but was informed by Mike that not even a mere ten minutes had passed in the world of the living. Mike was given a pocket watch by his father that had been enchanted by Nettie's voodoo, providing the time of Liveside while in Deadside. Ron couldn't believe the timepiece or how the time worked in Deadside. This would mean that Hermione was probably still in the Department of Mysteries with Harry, he thought.

Time was only a minor thought in the back of his mind. Ron had so many questions. Where would they look for the Govi he was told of in searching for the Dark Souls? How were the five serial killers bridging a way into the living of the dead? Who was behind all of this? And what about the safety of his family and friends? He had tried questioning Mike, but it was hopeless as he too wasn't sure about anything. Ron questioned Nettie's dream of a prophecy that had involved the apocalypse, perpetrated by five serial killers and the shade of red that was said to aid in the cease and desistance of this new evil.

Mike had told him to trust her despite his own personal inquiry of said prophecy as she was never wrong when it came to seeing the forthcoming of evil. She had lived through the ages, Grindelwald's dark rise, Voldemort's reign of terror, and even muggle threats with nuclear war that placed the fate of the world at hand. Yet, like Nettie had predicted, all would be well eventually, with only limited necessary intervention on their behalf with otherworldly threats. Until a new evil came forth. It was amazing to say the least how heroic their actions were without anyone's recognition. Mike and Nettie didn't expect anything from the world, and owed it nothing, yet they still worked together to stop Deadside's plane from demolishing the world of the living.

Ron was still unsure of what to believe, but he had seen his fair share of wickedness for a lifetime to come. All that he was sure of was to gather the Dark Souls as quickly as possible and finding a way to put an end to these killers' schemes. He wanted so badly to be back in Hermione's arms, to be done with this once and for all.

That is why the two men were now heading for the tunnel high above with fangs coming out from the ground. It was in that direction that the dark black tower lay that Jaunty had spoken of. Mike had briefed Ron that apparently, this tower was newly constructed and not in Deadside the last time he walked the spiritual plane. Ron had in fact seen it upon crossing the veil, but had dismissed it due to the duppies having chased him to the Marrow Gates. After Mike told him they were headed for a way inside, he had gulped with a nervous look on his face. Upon gazing up at the dark tower he approximated it to be fifty stories high filled with the greatest fears and horrors unimaginable. A single dark cloud loomed above it, hinting at complete malice and madness.

They continued through an upward trail that led them through the tunnel with the fangs. Ron had been relatively quiet after their last encounter with a small group of slashing demons. He was taking everything in. The investigation, his family, Harry and Hermione, Nettie, and even Mike himself. With each step, he became closer to asking him more about who he was and how he came to be. Although, Mike had been tight-lipped about his backstory and was not in a sharing mood.

Ron knew he was still in the dark about a lot of things. But unfortunately for him, this would have to wait as he was suddenly taken out of his thoughts after coming to the end of the trail. It had brought them back to the large area they had originated from after passing the gates.

"We're here," spoke Mike's raspy tone.

Ron surveyed the area below and noted they were now on one of the ledges fairly high up, about twenty feet away from the tunnel they were headed to. He looked down at the large area with the many passageways leading to the Marrow Gates and other undisclosed Deadside locations. He noticed the open area was now occupied with even more wailers. He looked to his right where Mike was standing in front of another ledge with a gap between them.

"We have to jump. Should be easy for you," motioned Mike as he stepped back a few steps. With a quick sprint, he leaped forward bridging the gap with ease. The wailers had taken notice of him from below, but the duo were too high for them to do anything. All they could do was continue shrieking their troublesome cries.

"We don't have all day Weasley. Let's go."

Ron acknowledged him and he too sprinted quickly and jumped over the gap, landing with ease on his two feet. "Bloody maze, this place is. All those turns and passageways just to get up here," he said dusting himself off.

"This is nothing. Just you wait. The Paths of Shadow are yet to be crossed. That's where we're headed." Mike turned to walk past the large fang-looking horns that came out of the ground. They followed the walkway that led them into the pitch-black tunnel they had intended to go through.

Ron pulled out his wand before entering. "Lumos," he chanted making his wand emit a light that illuminated their vicinity. They continued through the tunnel, carefully scanning the area for any foes.

"Paths of Shadow you say?" questioned Ron. He couldn't believe they had to pass through even more complex, maze-like wedges and routes. Funnily enough, he didn't appear fatigued or tired from their adventure so far. He knew not to question this as nothing made the least remote of sense in Deadside.

"Yeah. My predecessor and the previous Shadow Man, Maxim St. James, constructed these paths to help navigate through the denser parts of Deadside. But I've never crossed through them. In each location, he created these bridge-like pathways that he called Paths of Shadow, all locked away with a coffin gate."

They continued through the tunnel that had limited light that was provided by Ron's wand. He had noted there were larger puddles of blood that were unavoidable to step through.

"Coffin gate?" he asked again confusedly. They now reached a point in the tunnel that had the puddles of blood to ankle level, making Ron squirm with a disgusted look on his face.

"The evil here never ends Weasley. Nettie told me that my predecessor's attempt to control and keep order here was to lock each path away behind these coffin gates, only to be opened by the next Shadow Man, me. You see, only a Shadow Man can open these gates with our voodoo shadow powers, no other evils can cross beyond. Not even your magic can penetrate the gates."

"Bloody hell, so these pathways, they'll lead us to that tower?"

"Perhaps. That thing may have damaged the pathways since it wasn't here when I last crossed. All that matters is finding the Govi and taking the Dark Souls in them. Since I've been the Shadow Man I haven't seen any Govi here, only the two at the church on the hill. I suspect a good deal will be in that dark tower, but also in other locations. This will help with that," he said taking out the teddy bear and showing him with a shake.

Their wading through the thick blood made it difficult for Ron to focus on what Mike was saying as he was not used to being in such a filthy environment. "Umm…how will that help?"

Ron failed to notice the shaking of Mike's head in annoyance through the dim lit tunnel. "You are just persistent with your questioning, huh?"

"Well I know nothing about any of this," Ron motioned with wide open arms as if to describe all of Deadside. "The more I know, the less I'll question, I feel."

Mike sighed in defeat and could only close his eyes and pinch the bridge of his nose with immense patience, his back turned to Ron as he walked ahead.

"The bear allows me to cross from specific locations in Deadside. It glows the same bright blue aura as my eyes and mask when I can use it to travel. So far, the only location we can go back to is the Marrow Gates and Liveside of course."

Comprehension finally dawned upon Ron's face. "I see. So, we can travel back to the gates where your snake friend is?"

"Yeah but we'll have to walk back here again. We have to find another location where the bear will glow to avoid the walking."

"And where's that?"

Mike turned back to face his bright blue aura glowing eyes at the red head. Ron stopped in his tracks holding his hand firm onto his wand. "You'll just have to wait and see," spoke Mike's raspy voice, with a slight smirk on his face.

As Mike continued through the dark tunnel, Ron gaped at his backside with suspicion. He was unsure where they were headed, but knew the goal was to arrive at the tower. The blood was finally back to ground level again, causing Ron to shake his boots to remove the excess blood. With one last quick turn, they came to what appeared to be the end of the tunnel, and Ron now understood why Mike had called them coffin gates.

Before them was the outline of a coffin sitting upright that appeared much like a doorway, only instead of a handle or an actual door, it was completely blocked with dark stone. A circular archway resembling an odometer was above the outline of the coffin. This disk-shaped archway was separated into ten pieces attached together. Each piece was marked with a symbol unbeknownst to Ron. They were not numbers or text that he knew, but wondered if these were runes. Hermione would know, he thought.

The coffin gate appeared to be fifteen feet high, but the remarkable feature was that two wire-like structures that connected the coffin gate to a small wooden, cross-like arm rest directly in front of it that was anchored on the ground. Ron wasn't sure what to make of this structure or how to get past it.

"I don't get it. How are we supposed to get through there?"

Mike went over to touch the cross-like wooden arm rest and observed it carefully. He then gazed at the archway and was analyzing every symbol.

"Each of the spaces you see represents a level in regards to my shadow powers. The limit is ten. Maxim St. James created the coffin gates by placing different limits on them, some bullshit on showing your worth. Look at the spaces. None of them have that aura glow. This means that the amount of shadow power necessary to pass is zero. I have to use my powers to blow that coffin stone open. Step back," he said while positioning his body towards the gate and placing both arms on the wooden arm rest as if doing bicep curls.

Ron stood back in amazement as a blue aura glow emanated from Mike's implanted mask and traveled through his arms, making their waves through the cables connected to the coffin gate. The sight appeared much like conducting electricity through an old power generator, though the coffin now glowed the same color. Mike let out a loud roar as if letting out all his power and might when suddenly the stone within the coffin began to tremble like an earthquake until it finally pierced and blew to shreds.

Ron covered his head with his arms in defense from the small explosion when he saw Mike panting and taking deep breaths. He then looked ahead and noticed an entryway through the coffin gate into another room had been opened.

"Wicked…"

Mike looked back at him with a smile. "Still got it. C'mon, let's go. We've reached the Chamber of the Ancients."

As soon as Mike finally composed himself he walked through the coffin doorway and into another large circular room. Ron followed suit and gazed around astonishingly at how different this chamber was from the rest of Deadside. It appeared to look like an empty cave, brightened in orange by the flames on the walls and the ceiling was covered in stone completely. Four large pillars spaced apart like the shape of a square were rooted from the ground and connected to the ceiling. There was also a walkway that followed the perimeter of the chamber in a manner that appeared like a circular stairway leading up to a second floor. A bridge between two separate small areas on each side of the room could be seen on that floor.

The two made their way inside when Mike noted the teddy bear to glow bright aura blue. He stared at it for a bit before showing Ron. "Guess we can travel here much faster now," he said while demonstrating the bear to the red head.

Ron was amused at having seen how the bear finally worked, but the one thing that caught his attention more was the bright yellow glowing artifact in the center of the chamber.

"What's that?" asked Ron with a bemused look. He walked toward it with interest. Mike was also staring at the glowing artifact in a puzzled manner. "Hey umm, Mike, what—"

"…This…this wasn't here before," murmured Mike as he walked up to the artifact that lay on a wooden pedestal not more than four feet high. But it was not any ordinary artifact. It was a deck of cards in a wooden box, similar to the tarot cards that gypsies used to read one's future. Mike stood directly in front of them with Ron taking a position opposite to him.

"Cards?"

"Yeah, but…they weren't here before. I don't understand. This chamber is sacred. It was used to honor the ancients and is always empty…except, this pedestal was never here. Not even demons can enter here. It's considered the safest place in Deadside, yet how is it that someone left these cards here?"

Ron could only scratch his head in confusion and looked around to make sure they weren't alone. He grasped his wand event tighter as to prepare for anyone or anything that was waiting to ambush them. He wanted to survey the second floor, but the cards took his interest.

"Well, let's see then, open them up."

As Mike picked up the wooden box and studied the deck, a small piece of parchment had fallen onto the ground. Ron went ahead and picked it up, unfolding it in the process. It was an old letter, written in cursive to a 'friend.' Mike was also staring at it curiously when Ron began to read it aloud.

"November 23 rd , 1888

Dear Friend,

Although centuries may have passed by the time you read this note, know that I greet you both as a friend and as a brother; for I, in my time, have also borne the burden that is the Mask of Shadows.

Know then, that I constructed these passageways, the Paths of Shadow, as pathways through the place known as Deadside, so that we, and those who also bear the Mask, might bring order to this realm and traverse it without hindrance.

In my time, I have gathered and catalogued many of the ancient artifacts of power, some of which reside within these chambers. However, I fear that I must leave my work incomplete. A seed of darkness has come to this realm, more powerful than has been felt in centuries, and so I find it necessary to seal the Paths of Shadow lest they and the artifacts within them, fall into the hands of evil.

The task of securing these passageways has been an immense labor, and I fear that with my weakening powers these outer gates may have not been secured as strongly as those deeper within the Paths. Know then, that the way ahead shall require much greater strength than that which brought you here.

In addition to the catalogue of artifacts, find here enclosed Les Cartes du Prophetie – the Prophecy as spoken to the Ancients by the Loa. I fear that the darkness I sense on this day might be that which Les Cartes speak of, but fate has made it my charge not to challenge that darkness. Instead, my labor is to secure these passageways so that, come the time of the Prophecy, when evil shows its true form, they may be reopened and their relics uncovered.

Maxim. St. James"

Ron looked up at Mike and the two exchanged bewildered glances. Mike took the letter and began reading it over again. "My predecessor left me this note?"

Ron stood in front of the pedestal pondering what he had just read while scratching his chin and furrowing his brow. The previous Shadow Man apparently sensed something bad coming as well. But what? And one hundred years ago, and he too knew of the prophecy. His heart rate started increasing again and the familiar feeling of unease began to come back as many thoughts and questions came to his mind.

"Mike…he knew about the prophecy all along. He knew for one hundred years! But how? Why didn't he tell Nettie? How is it that you've never seen this note before?"

With each sentence that Mike read, the more enraged and irritated he seemed. "Nettie didn't' mention this. I knew he created the paths to make it easier for us to get by, to put things into order, but he had the prophecy all along…"

He crumbled the note and stuck it in his pocket and took out the cards from the small box that held them. "Weasley…this is the prophecy. Everything we need to know is here…"

Ron gulped, but he too needed to know how he was involved. This moment couldn't wait any longer. "Open them, spread them on the pedestal. We have to know."

Mike did as he was told. The first card he pulled had the words, 'Les Cartes' written in cursive on the bottom. It had a picture of a man with ebony skin and a bald head resembling Mike in anatomical position. He had the same glowing blue Mask on the middle of his chest as well. Around him was the same coffin gate archway with the ten symbols. Directly below the man were two purple worm like creatures bonded within white circles. The edges of the card had a brown frame-like drawing, and the back of the card had a dark sangria color with blue aura lines drawn into a circle. All the cards had this design.

"Mike…t-that's you…but how?" uttered Ron in shock upon focusing on the card.

The Shadow Man furrowed his eyebrows as he was at a loss for words at the card he was staring at. "But…it can't be…"

He then fumbled through each card and began spacing them in a row across the pedestal for them to see. There were about twenty cards in total, each with different drawings and small inscriptions at the bottom of each. They were also labeled with roman numerals at the top, indicating a certain order of the cards.

The first main card's drawing was of a demon-like brown creature that resembled the slashers, only bigger with increased muscle tone. It appeared to have a goat skull for a head and long scarlet colored claws and feet. The same purple worm within the white circle was drawn on its chest. There were also five symbols spaced around the demon that resembled each of the symbols found near the victims of the serial killers. Ron had recalled the symbols from Deacon's file. He read the text below the demon.

"Long before the Men of Shadow, creatures with souls of evil did descend upon the worlds. Immortals, they were led by the One Who is Many, he who bears the Mouth of Blood. After the longest of battles, he was defeated and banished to a place beyond the worlds and the Dark Souls of his armies were sealed into Govi."

Ron turned to look at Mike who was still staring unbelievably at each card. The next one had a red background and three blue colored women with mysterious ancient tattoos on their skin. They were dressed only in undergarments and were pictured gathered around a single Govi, the orange beehive-like structure held standing with large sticks going through it. This too had the same purple worm within the white circle shape on it. Ron continued reading.

"And the Sisters of Blood were entrusted with the Govi and for many lifetimes the Dark Souls lay under their protection."

"Sisters of blood?" Ron raised, being slightly taken aback at the women in the drawing with blue colored skin.

Mike shook his head, apparently not knowing who they were. Ron moved to the next card which now showed a middle-aged white man of aristocratic support who sported strange clothing and was standing on a green surface. The man had striped purple pants, an orange button up shirt wrapped with a red bandana around the neck, and a long open grey coat. Ron noted dark hair that was slicked back with blonde highlights, although facial features were hard to see. However, he did manage to see blood around his mouth and a sword held in his left hand. Behind the man in the distance was a black building that resembled the tower Jaunty had mentioned.

"And then, the One Who is Many did return from the place beyond Worlds. Under his banner did he unite the Madmen and Killers, and they did build Asylum in the World of the Dead."

"Who's he?" Ron asked, seeming more addled with each card that he read. Mike shook his head again, but stared at the man with the mouth of blood keenly.

Ron moved his fingers to get a better look at the next card which showed the dark black tower and each of the symbols of the five killers that he recalled from Deacon's file. Strangely enough, there appeared to be a red chain linking each of the five symbols to the tower and beneath each symbol was a purple worm, five in total. He pointed his finger across each of them.

"Hey Mike, you don't suppose these things represent the Dark Souls, do you?"

Mike's gaze moved to the card he was pointing at. "Hmm…that's what I was thinking," he replied. "Keep reading."

Ron cleared his throat.

"And sending his minions throughout the World of the Dead, he gathered the Dark Souls that were not under the Sisters' protection. Using their dreaded power, he summoned The Five, mortal men who would do his bidding. And they built for him Gateways of Souls into the World of Men."

Mike immediately stopped Ron from proceeding to the next card. "Go back to the previous card. Look at what it says. 'The One Who is Many. He united the madmen and killers, and they did build Asylum in the world of the dead. They built for him gateways of souls into the world of men.' This guy must be the asshole behind all of this."

Ron perceived a hint of anger and resentment in his voice. The man in the card had the appearance of someone who looked to have lived a long time ago as he was fashionably late in the looks department. But if this were true, then he'd be responsible for the killing of innocent muggles, this connection between worlds and for apocalypse nonetheless.

"It says 'they built Asylum in the world of the dead?' Does that mean the dark bloody tower we're headed to? You did say it wasn't here when you last crossed."

"Shit. It's starting to make sense. Keep going."

Ron went on to the next card that showed a dark-skinned woman sleeping and a purple cloud coming out of her head as if demonstrating what she was dreaming. In that cloud were the same symbols of the five serial killers.

"So the Five did appear to the Sorceress, and their Lizard King did announce the Apocalypse with the cries of a thousand men."

The breathing of both men seemed to intensify in regards to that specific card as they both had the same thought in their heads. Ron was unsure if Mike could hear how loud his heart was pounding due to the similarity between the woman sleeping in the picture and Nettie. He turned to the next card which appeared to shock him even more and was now gaping at it open-mouthed in disbelief. Mike did the same and moved his hand over to cover his.

It was the same ebony skinned, bald man that mirrored Mike who appeared shaking hands with the woman who was sleeping. They were standing opposite of each other and facing one another as if just having completed some sort of deal. But even more remarkable was the person who was standing behind their handshake with his back faced to them. It was a tall lanky man with a brown coat and red hair. A wand could be seen being held in his right hand.

"And in her darkest hour, the Sorceress did call upon the Man of Shadow. And together they brought forth the one who would aid him before world's end."

Ron couldn't believe it. He stared wide-eyed with cynicism fueling his mind at the two cards he just saw. The man with the red hair resembled himself. He was a part of this prophecy.

"It's…it's me," he whispered slowly, holding the card with his two hands shakily. "Mike…Nettie was right. She was right about her dream. About the five killers…"

A nervous look finally dawned on Mike as he glared through the card with the three individuals. There he was, appearing to shake hands with Nettie and the red head behind their shaking of arms, back facing them as if forsaking the bond that they made together. Mike didn't say anything. He knew there were a few more cards left of the prophecy. There was more to know. He had to find out what other horrors lay ahead. He picked up the card from Ron's hand and put it back down onto the pedestal. He slid the next card to Ron, who was having trouble recovering from the news he just received.

The next card did not calm him down either. It depicted a familiar dark green snake with a skull head wearing a tall hat.

"Mike! Bloody hell, this can't be—"

"Jaunty…"

The snake appeared to be guarding a bone-like doorway that was drawn behind him making it seem like he was a guardian of some sort.

"And the Serpent did guard the Marrow Gates until the Shadow returned to the World of the Dead. And thence did this Serpent become his advisor."

Mike picked up the card with the snake to analyze it further. As he did so Ron quickly moved on to the next card, seeming to have finally composed his thoughts a bit to proceed. It showed a drawing of a coffin gate surrounded by the disk-shaped archway and the ten pieces with the odd symbols on them. Although, these pieces were colored in purple just as Mike had told him it resembled his shadow power limit. Ron could see the dark black tower in the distance beyond the drawing of the coffin gate. He made Mike put the card with the snake down before reading it.

"For the Man of Shadow did open the Coffin Gates, and for the first time in one hundred years were the Paths of Shadow walked."

Ron didn't dare stop and continued. The next card showed the dark-skinned man that looked like Mike again, this time with three purple worm structures in front of him and blue aura colored chains connecting him to them. The circular archway was behind him, though it was only highlighted in purple up to the sixth space. Ron observed it further and noted there were numbers on top of each symbol.

"Look here. Those are numbers. The symbols represent numbers! What do you think it means?"

Mike shrugged his shoulders. "Hmm…this is probably the number of Dark Souls required to open the coffin gates. This card has all the spaces up to the sixth highlighted in purple. Look at the number above the sixth symbol. A twelve. The fifth space has an eight; so does the fourth. The third space has a four, the second a two and the first space a one. Add them together. If a coffin gate were to be in our way that had six spaces highlighted as I've told you, then we'd need thirty-five Dark Souls to increase my shadow powers to that level. You've got to be fucking kidding me. This means we will need all one hundred twenty no matter what! Shit!" he groaned in frustration.

Ron's breathing eased up a bit more, but having learned the demanding task at collecting that many Dark Souls with no clue where to look made him feel a tight knot in his stomach.

"What does that card say Weasley?" Mike asked pointing to it.

Ron cleared his throat again.

"The Man of Shadow did break the Sisters' spell on the Govi and in taking the Dark Souls' power, he did unite it within him."

"Well isn't that fucking splendid? At least I know we'll succeed."

Ron dismissed Mike's sarcastic remark as he then turned to the next card which had a dreadful sight. It was the same man on his knees appearing to slam his fists against the ground. Ron gasped at the sight of the man with red hair and a brown coat, also on his knees and grabbing his head with both hands as if he had gone insane. The dark tower was in the background that had red chains connected to the killers' five symbols in each bubble.

"With greater powers did the Man of Shadow finally enter Asylum and did find the Gateways within that lead to the World of Men. And he passed beyond them with the man who would aid him before world's end. And together they did confront The Five, but in the broad light of day did they fall to them."

"Blimey! Mike! If this is true, then we're gonna face them!" announced Ron.

"Hold on ginger. Can't you fucking read? It says we fall to them in broad daylight."

Ron looked back down at the card to give it a one over. "Yeah so…?"

"So I'll need my shadow powers to put a cap in their ass. It's nearly nightfall in London, but in America it's bright as shit. My powers in Liveside are only available at night and we can't just sit around waiting for nightfall with what we already know. Besides, they're making 'soul gates.' We have to find out what that means. I suspect it's the link between worlds that they're making."

"Okay so what's your plan then?"

"Just keep reading. There's a few more."

Ron picked up the next card and saw a woman on the ground seemingly asleep again. It was the same woman as before who they thought to be Nettie. Beyond her was the dark black tower which appeared to be rising from the ground. In the sky was an eclipse, making the drawing much darker than the rest.

"And the Sorceress fell into a deep trance, her powers exhausted. And the Shadow did fall upon the World of Men."

Once again Ron had a puzzled look on his face, narrowing his eyes as if he was in deep thought. "So we'll find a way to induce nightfall? Is that even possible? I don't know of any spell that can do that."

"That's because there isn't," sighed Mike looking irked.

They both stared awkwardly at each other as they had no idea how they would enable Mike's powers in broad daylight. There were five killers in total. Four still operated in hours of bright daylight out and if these cards genuinely represented the prophecy, then they needed to fight in the darkness to avoid falling to them. But how were they going to bring nightfall?

Ron picked up the following card. It had the drawing of the same man as before with the strange outfit and bloody mouth. He was sitting on a chair peacefully and smiling with his chin rested on his left hand, as if sitting on a throne as a king. A globe was in his right hand and across his body were the purple worm like creatures in the white circles. But to Ron's astonishment, there was something else on that card. Something that made him even more anxious and skittish.

It was a woman. She was above the man on the chair as if floating from the sky with closed eyes and open arms almost inviting to be embraced. There was a bright yellow luminescence around her that made her white robes gleam. The woman was of radiant beauty. Her complexion was light; her figure was thin and she had a mess of brown curls.

"Hermione!" blurted Ron as he gazed at the card earnestly, letting the calm demeanor escape him once more. "Mike it's her! No, no…no this can't be. She can't be a part of this!"

Mike placed his arms on his shoulders and leered at his blue eyes with his glowing aura ones. "Get a fucking grip! We don't know anything yet. Read it first at least. C'mon. What does it say?"

Ron hit his arms away from his shoulders and aimed his wand straight at his face. "Is this why you didn't want her to know about the investigation? What do you know that you aren't telling me? Answer me!" he howled.

Mike stepped back and shook his head once more in distaste. "Really? Again? What, you don't think? You don't pay attention? I am immortal here. And your magic is next to useless when it comes to me. Threatening me is that last thing you want to do ginger."

Ron tensed up a bit at having realized what he was doing. The reality was that Mike was right. No matter what he did or attempted, there was no use for trying to curse him there. Ron was unsure why seeing the woman made him lose control of his emotions.

"Then why is she on that card? Why is she above that fucking uncanny bloke on the chair? There's something you aren't telling me. If you even think about using me—"

"Look around Weasley. Look at where we are. Look at what's in your hand. When it comes to your little girlfriend you lose yourself. That is why you can never be a great wizard. You're too afraid to let go. You're easily distracted by the things that plague your feeble mind. Think for a fucking second. For the first time, just think for a sec. Nettie sends us here to search for the Dark Souls and defeat an unknown evil, and somehow five killers are part of this. Then we find these cards which have accurately portrayed this end of the world bullshit we've been on about so far. How would we even betray you? And for what? I don't know why Nettie asked me not to mention something to your little girlfriend and frankly, I could care less. It looks like her on the card, yes, but if she didn't state how she's involved in all of this, then it's likely for good reason. Don't forget why you're here you idiot. What, are you gonna walk out on me like you did your friend?"

At hearing those words Ron was suddenly unable to react. He was overcome with such emotion that he recalled after leaving Harry and Hermione while under the influence of the horcrux. He made a slight movement as if finally thinking clearly. He switched his vision from Mike to the card with the woman and her closed eyes and open arms. He noticed that her expression on the card was sorrowful and full of grief. He finally read the small inscription below the card to himself.

"And Legion took the power of the Dark Souls unto him. The end."

He moved his gaze back to Mike and lowered his wand, now taking the card back into his hands while rummaging his hair. He looked through it carefully and turned it around to see if there were any hidden clues on it. But nothing was special about the card. It only had the text and its picture like the rest. Ron put it back down on the pedestal and rubbed his eyes in defeat.

"Sorry. You're right. I'm just on the bloody edge. It's one thing for you and Nettie to tell me about this prophecy, but to see these things…I guess I'm off my rocker."

Mike moved ahead to the card and he read it to himself as well, while waving Ron off. "Don't worry about it. But don't make yourself look weak here. It makes you vulnerable to the evil. You don't want to be manipulated by the spirits here."

Ron nodded his head and had a dejected look on his face that he was unable to hide. He then looked through all the cards they had gone over so far. There were a few more left, but they appeared to be the weapons and artifacts that Maxim St. James had spoken of in his letter. Though these cards had no text at all. It seemed the prophecy, or Les Cartes, ended with the man on the chair and the woman above him.

"It won't happen again. But…the last card. It says 'Legion took the power of the Dark Souls unto him.' Does that name sound familiar to you?"

"No. But I don't like this. It's made to seem as if he won. He has all the Dark Souls around him sitting on some kind of throne. I'm not sure what it means. It's as good as anybody's guess why he has them. And there's no mention of Granger neither. We don't even know why she's there. I think we should go back to Nettie."

"Already?" asked Ron with his head tilted to the side and scratching his cheek.

"Do you have a better idea? We don't where the hell to even look for those souls. Maybe Jaunty knows something also."

Ron then turned behind him and looked around the room at the circular walkway that headed up to the second floor. "Hey what's on that floor?"

Mike moved his vision to where Ron was now staring at; the small bridge that connected the rooms on opposite sides of the chamber on the second floor. "There should be another coffin gate up there. Opposite to it and across the little bridge is a room blocked by a burning block. I've never passed through it. We should check it out. I suspect things will be much different from my last visit since we found the cards."

Mike moved around the pedestal and began heading up the circular walkway around the room. Ron followed suite and cast a quick spell to put the cards away. As they reached the second floor they came to the side that had the other coffin gate Mike spoke of. They looked at it curiously and noted one of the spaces on the far left of the archway was glowing bright aura blue.

"It's at level one. Shit."

Ron frowned. "Hold on I thought you've traveled here before."

Mike continued to observe the coffin gate and brushed his hand across the wooden arm rest that connected to the coffin gate. "I've been in this chamber multiple times, but I haven't passed that coffin gate as I was never able to open it. Until now, I didn't know how to open it but if the cards are true, then we need a Dark Soul."

Ron moved his arms up and let them drop to his sides, sighing in displeasure. "Great. Brilliant. I'm sure there's one just laying around here somewhere."

Mike ignored him and looked across the second floor at the room opposite to the coffin gate. He began walking across the stone bridge that was above the pedestal from where they had just discovered the prophecy. Ron followed his footsteps and eventually found themselves on the other side of the chamber by the room blocked by a large block covered in flames.

"This the room you haven't been in?"

Mike nodded and examined it carefully, avoiding touching the flames. "Yeah. The flame is inextinguishable. It's sacred. No matter all that I've tried I can't put it out. So it can't be moved." He rubbed his eyes in frustration and turned his back to the block, now seeming to be out of ideas.

"What if I try?" Ron asked.

"Go ahead," Mike motioned with a wave of his hand. He didn't seem too interested in seeing the red head's attempt.

Ron pulled out his wand and aimed it straight at the fiery block. He flicked his wand and announced, "Aguamenti!" A jet of clear water was conjured from the tip of his wand and hit the fiery block with a splash, but just as Mike had said, the flame wasn't put out.

"Told you. The voodoo magic of the Ancients was something else. Weak charms won't work."

"Lemme try again." Ron moved his wrist in a different motion and chanted a different spell. "Ignus Extinguere!" A white beam of light emerged from his wand and hit the fiery block again, but unfortunately for the two of them nothing happened. Ron looked at his wand with concern. "Oh bugger all! What are we supposed to do now?"

Mike crossed his arms and paced back and forth. "Don't know. We can go back to Nettie for suggestions. Or Jaunty I guess. Getting into that room isn't important. We have to go elsewhere to look for the Dark Souls."

"What if there's one behind there? You read the cards, we need to cross the Paths of Shadow you went on about. That's the way to that bloody tower, right? We just have to keep trying. I have one more spell to try." This time he appeared confident and stared the fiery block attentively. One of Hermione's most used and efficient spells came to his mind.

"I've told you. Your magic, no offense, just won't work."

Ron ignored him and aimed his wand again at the block continuing to look at it fixedly and cried, "Finite Incantatem!"

To Mike's surprise the fiery red flames became low and within a matter of seconds, they were gone. He uncrossed his arms and stared unbelievably at the block, now fuming with white smoke.

"Holy shi—"

"Whooo! Yes!" cheered Ron who appeared to be dancing around in delight at having extinguished the flames.

"But how?" Mike asked scratching his head in amazement.

Ron offered him his famous lopsided grin and shrugged his shoulders. "Dunno. But c'mon, let's go! We gotta see what's on the other side of it."

Mike nodded and went ahead in front of the block. He pressed both hands on it and using all his strength, pushed it forth with a holler, allowing access to a small room no bigger than a closet. He dusted himself off and was taken aback by what he had saw. Ron joined him and stared unbelievably at the Govi that lay standing within the small room.

"It's one of those things!"

"Govi. Shit. We did it."

Ron threw him a smile and for the first time since meeting Mike in his flat's small backyard, he returned it. For a moment Ron wasn't sure if he'd imagined it, but the Shadow Man had smiled gladly.

"So what now?" questioned Ron while examining the Govi.

"I have to use my shadow powers. Step back."

Ron did as he was told as he saw Mike pull out his shadow gun, aiming it directly at the orange beehive-like structure that stood on the three sticks going through it. Ron had noticed it appeared to be pulsating, which was different than the ones he saw at the church on the hill. Mike pulled back the trigger and let out a blow of his shadow gun, letting the beam of blue aura hit the Govi's core directly.

It suddenly began to glow the same blue aura color and let out more beams of light that were bright and blinding to the eyes. Ron placed his hand over his eyes and saw the Govi explode to produce a purple spirit-like entity and a dark core. It made a loud screeching nose that sounded of many cries and despair.

Mike looked on incredulously at the Dark Soul that had come out of the Govi as Ron moved his hands down and aimed his wand at it in defense. It had the appearance similar to a host-less Obscurus, although distinctively purple in color and with a core that seemed to be staring back at both men menacingly. Ron noted that the core resembled the worm-like creatures within the cards of the prophecy.

"Blimey…this is it ain't it? The Dark Soul Nettie told us about."

Mike didn't seem to hear him as he edged closer to it with an outstretched arm out.

"Mike wait!"

But it was too late. The Dark Soul extended itself to contact Mike which caused his entire body to burn with blue aura beams and purple waves of darkness through and around him. He was roaring in pain as the echoes from his screams were heard throughout the chamber. More and more purple waves from the spirit flowed into his core as he moved around in a seizure-like manner.

Ron could only stare at the remarkable display helpless. He tried to get closer to Mike who had screamed to get back and let him be. After a few moments, the spirit's waves and blue aura beams of light were fully embraced within himself. The Shadow Man fell on all fours, panting and gasping for air at what occurred.

"Shit! Mike! Hey, are you alright?" Ron kneeled beside him to help him up when Mike put up his hand and coughed for a bit.

"I'm…fine," he said while wheezing. He coughed a few more times before finally looking up at Ron. "What the hell happened? This power…it's…it's like no other I've felt before."

Ron inspected him closely and went ahead to pick him up by his arm when he was pushed aside by Mike. "I'm…fine. I can stand on my own Weasley."

Ron continued to look at him apprehensively. "What happened? Was that supposed to happen!?"

Mike finally stood on both feet and outstretched his arms examining himself. "I feel. I feel good. This power…I can't explain it. Never have I experienced such hatred and corruption. It's like a dark fire that's burning within me with such ferocity. This sounds stupid, but I'm afraid it may consume me. And yet, these glowering flames are as a joy to me. My ability to channel my shadow powers has increased and I feel so much more…"

Ron maintained an uneasy look at him. "Dangerous?" he questioned with a concerned expression. He seemingly was not hurt. There were no scars or signs of damage on his body, yet the screams of Mike's torture were still ringing in his ears and was reminded so vividly of Hermione's own as a result of Bellatrix's abuse.

Mike simply stared back at him without a word.

"Bloody wanker, all I ask is that you be careful. I'm the one who saw you have a fucking seizure, just now."

Mike acknowledged his worry and nodded. "I know. I have it under control now. C'mon. We've got a gate to open."

He began walking away from the room and towards the coffin gate again. Ron simply stared at his back in disbelief and admiration. Mike appeared to be limping slowly, but seemed fine, nonetheless. With a deep breath, he treaded on, knowing the long adventure ahead.


August 27, 2000 (5:45 pm)

Ministry of Magic – London, England

"Potter! There you are. Have you got my owl? Where's Weasley?"

Harry and Hermione were caught off guard by an impatient looking Gawain Robards as they made their exit out of the lift. Upon leaving the Department of Mysteries their plan was to floo back to Ron and Hermione's flat and investigate around the nearby coffee shop for clues on the muggle serial killer Hermione had seen.

Harry was hesitant to include her on the case per Ron and Mike's persistence, but after understanding the true extent of what they were up against, it seemed they needed her now more than ever. Hermione herself had even been pleased to finally be involved and have a change of pace for once as well.

The two best friends looked at each other with blank stares and gulped, not anticipating the head Auror to be questioning them so late in the day.

"Well? Where is he? Been gone for two days without a word. Ms. Granger?"

She struggled to find her words, but recovered quickly. "I'm sorry sir. Ron's ill with the flu. Very bad stuff. He's at home resting," she said fumbling her sweaty hands. Harry avoided his boss' curious expression.

"Is that so? Too ill to come to work without even a notice to the Auror Office?"

Hermione looked over at Harry trying to convince him with her eyes to say anything. Harry could only scratch his head. And speak lowly. "Umm, well, it's pretty bad, sir. I was with him yesterday, you know, working the case, and I don't know, just started feeling unwell I guess."

Gawain looked more impatient and peevish by the second. "Unwell? Just started feeling unwell you say? Hmm…I suppose it's fine then. We'll just have to tell the bastard here in London to stop killing innocent muggles because we're 'unwell.'"

Harry and Hermione looked at one another nervously again, unsure of what to say to that remark.

"Where are you two headed off now? I'm surprised to see you here today Ms. Granger. I thought your Department didn't work on Sundays?"

Hermione kept her edgy face, but thought of something quickly on her feet. "Oh! Yes, well…I'm helping Harry with something sir."

Robards moved his gaze between the two suspiciously and landed on Harry fearing he may have spilled information about an investigation to someone that was not part of the Auror office.

"And what's that if I may ask?" he challenged, continuing to look at Harry with suspicion.

The brunette was running out of ideas as her brain was searching desperately for a way out of the conversation. Suddenly a randy thought crossed her mind. "Lingerie," blurted Hermione without hesitance, quickly covering her mouth in horror at having realized what she had said.

Harry swiftly turned his head to face her with a look that screamed what the fuck in confusion. Robards appeared taken aback as this was far from what he believed she'd say.

Hermione shook her head vigorously, utterly mortified. "Umm…sorry. As a present for Ginny, my friend, or his girlfriend. Ron's sister, sir!" voiced Hermione again quickly, continuing to shake her head and covering her red face in embarrassment.

Harry looked at her incredulously and then faced Robards with an apologetic expression. He merely raised an eyebrow at them, with a slight hint of disgust behind it.

"Well…" He coughed. "Carry on then."

As the two were about to walk away, Robards stopped Harry in his tracks. "Potter. A quick word please. No need to wait for us Ms. Granger," he said, waving her off.

Hermione looked at Harry once more before nodding and walking slowly away towards the series of fireplaces. He continued staring at her backside, now concerned about her safety after having met the serial killer. He felt very uncomfortable letting her leave alone.

As Robards saw her walking away, he faced Harry sternly. "Where's Weasley? You thought I'd believe that bollocks of him being ill? What were you even doing here today?"

Harry noticed his palms didn't stop sweating and couldn't seem to maintain eye contact with his boss. He blinked quickly at a loss for words, but was unable to speak. Before he could say anything, he began to notice the dripping of blood coming out of Gawain Robards' mouth. He furrowed his brow and looked at him curiously.

"Umm, sir, you have a bit of blood," he uttered while pointing to his own mouth.

Robards touched his mouth and noted the bleeding become more streamline. He then looked down at the floor and saw a few drops had hit the dark wood surface. He quickly covered his mouth and without a word began to stroll away from Harry in the direction of a different lift.

He was now the one to look at him with a curious stare at what he just witnessed, but could not help but wonder why the head Auror was also carrying a cane if he wasn't limping. He kneeled and touched the drops of blood on the floor with his fingers, exquisitely observing it.

"That's odd. Why would he leave just like that?"

Harry quickly dismissed this when he thought back to his plan with Hermione and their intent to head back to her flat. He stood and quickly stormed past the Atrium and into the fireplaces. He shouted the name of their flat before throwing the floo powder and swiftly arrived at their home.

"Hermione! C'mon let's go, we don't have much time!"

But there was no answer. The flat was silent. Harry looked around the living room and made his way to the kitchen, but she was nowhere in sight. "Hermione. Hey c'mon we've got to go."

He then went into the small hallway that led to the loo and bedroom but they were also empty. "Hermione?" Harry began to worry and jolted back to the kitchen to have a look outside. He opened the sliding doors that led to the small open space in the back, but it was empty. There was no sight of her.

"She couldn't have gone to the Burrow. They would've asked questions about Ron. Maybe Grimmauld Place? No. Ginny's there. Where is she?" he asked himself.

Harry went back inside and locked the sliding doors with his wand. He headed outside the front door and looked around the lawn. Nothing. He walked slowly down the steps of the porch and into the walkway that led to the main street when he noticed something on the ground.

He approached it and picked it up. It was her wand. Panic began to consume Harry at the thought of her being taken. He looked around quickly with his own wand pointed in front of him. But the grass was still, the clouds remained stoic above, and no signs of abnormal activity were apparent. Nothing had changed, except his best friend was now missing.

"Oh no…Hermione…"

 

 

Chapter Text

Paths of Shadow – Deadside

Spending hours with the salvaged souls that drift beyond the Marrow Gates for eternity began to affect Ron. This infinite limbo, this wasteland of untamed, unnatural afterbirth commanded with Mike's endless darkness began to show its true nature. What ineffable secrets are whispered within the Paths of Shadow he thought? What red edged realities rising bleak above the blasted skylines could be even worse than what he'd already experienced? The creatures he had slain – Deadwing, Duppy, Zombie-mother – the abominations that continued to roam and show no end still upheld a fear in him.

Despite the many horrors and atrocities that plagued the land, he continued making his way with the Shadow Man in tow. The floor was lost to darkness. Against a hazy black and green sky, black branches writhed like the tendrils of a monstrous, unseen beast, thickening in the distance to an impenetrable tangle that barred the fleeing of youth's way, confiding them within the wilderness inhabited by the ravenous, bestial nightmare-creatures. Ron could sense them now. Their howls were louder, tender screams of the souls of the dead forever crying for useless help.

He was on edge, skin crawled, heart thudding louder and louder, but did his best not to show it. Mike had him warned him about the spiritual manipulation that went on in Deadside and Ron made sure to recall every bit of his Occlumency training. Still, the eerie shrieks, laughs, and growls, the fear of the unknown were clenched like a tight fist around his chest.

After passing the second coffin gate, they were led through a tunnel that eventually brought them to a fork in the road. On their left-hand side appeared another coffin gate with two symbols highlighted in blue aura, unable to be opened with only one Dark Soul collected. They had taken the path on the right, which eventually guided them to a lengthy and narrow bridge-like walkway, appearing to be made from skin and bone.

These structures were the bridges Mike's predecessor and previous Shadow Man, Maxim St. James built to help traverse the different Deadside locations. They appeared much like a hand-made tunnel with more gas lamps on the ceiling, offering a much-needed rest from the terror that tortured the outside. Ron was apprehensive at first, but eventually found himself relieved of the chilling voices harassing his mind.

Through the first bridge the duo had traversed to a different part of Deadside Mike called the Wasteland. It included more blood falls, lakes of blood and tunnels leading to many encounters with slashers and flying demons thirsty for flesh. Ron experimented with different charms, different approaches, and new strategies at destroying the beasts, making it much easier for Mike to finish them off.

Careful use of magic was now his bread and butter, enabling him to be ready for any surprise. Across a series of passageways and navigation through the dense and fiendish Wasteland, they had discovered four more Govi, enabling Mike to take their Dark Souls. He now had increased his shadow power to level two granting him the ability to channel and harness his power even longer.

The blows from his shadow gun were stronger, demons were being destroyed much faster, even his agility had gained a boost. Although, his personality started showing signs of hatred and resentment. Ron thought he was getting to be more of an arse with each soul he recovered, finally having to convince Mike to be careful to not be consumed by their Dark Power.

Mike sought the souls as necessary fuel to enrich his strength. The display of attaining a Dark Soul still frightened him. It was as if the great darkness now burning inside was threatening to swallow him up. Ron was more heavily concerned as it appeared that the souls were damaging him in some way. But still, Mike had simply waved him off and continued as if nothing happened.

Much to Ron's surprise the Wasteland had been a relatively short trip as they had withstood the beasts that wandered the area, crossed all the edges and tunnels and even swam beneath the blood lakes to find the Govi until they were absolutely certain no more existed in the area. Yet, even with amount of energy required to carry on through the land of the dead, Ron never felt better. He didn't know what fatigue was, but didn't seem to care. He wanted nothing to stop him or Mike from moving forward.

After recovering their fifth Dark Soul and surveying the Wasteland for more, they finally agreed to return to Nettie and update her on their progress. They had used Mike's teddy bear to travel back to the church on the hill in Louisiana to consult with her about the events that had unfolded. The discovery of the prophecy, the attainment of several Dark Souls now under Mike's belt and their progress into finding a way to the dark tower. However, they were not aware they'd be welcomed by Nettie's pissed off attitude. She had reprimanded them on why they returned to Liveside if they were doing so well on their progress. They were told several profanities that even Ron tried to remember for future use. Ultimately, Nettie was adamant about returning to Deadside immediately and finding a way into the black tower based on the cards they had shown her.

She was almost certain that the majority of the Dark Souls were in that damn place. She had told them that one of the cards of the prophecy specifically showed evidence for the five serial killers and their involvement within the black tower. It was the one with the men resembling Mike and Ron on their knees, hitting their fists on the floor as if in defeat and the black tower in the background with the symbols of the five. She mentioned this more than likely solidified her belief that they had been somehow responsible for the events that were unfolding.

When questioned about how could that be, she recalled the great evil she had feared in her dream. It was likely that the five serial killers were under the influence of this greater evil, the Dark Souls, now tainting their already corrupt hearts. She had pulled their attention specifically to the fourth card which demonstrated only the black tower, each of the five killers' symbols linked to it by a red chain and with the strange purple worm-like creature within them. She had read what was written on the card to them as if to make a point.

"And sending his minions throughout the World of the Dead, he gathered the Dark Souls that were not under the Sisters' protection. Using their dreaded power, he summoned The Five, mortal men who would do his bidding. And they built for him Gateways of Souls into the World of Men."

Ron seemed to miss this detail, but it made sense. Something, he wasn't sure what, somehow projected five Dark Souls across the veil into Liveside, now apparently empowering the twisted minds of the five serial killers. Nettie was shocked herself to see a woman look just like her in the cards as well. More questions surrounded the trance card that depicted her sleeping with an eclipse in the sky, but she was unsure what this meant.

From everything Nettie had gathered about the prophecy, she had determined that the five were indeed the heralds of the apocalypse, preparing the way for an immortal demon army fueled by Dark Souls. Though, most of the other cards were still mysterious and unclear.

Ron had been amazed at having the cards interpreted, but if he was being serious, he was more confused about what the cards had depicted of him, and the one that depicted Hermione. Ron pressed her about this, but Nettie had remained tight-lipped and only retorted that in her dream she had seen a curly haired brunette, but did not know the extent of her connection in the prophecy. He wasn't sure if she was being truthful. The card itself was not of any help either. It offered no clues or anything. This threw Ron off the wrong way, being left to his thoughts, upset, and concerned about the safety of Hermione.

He then wondered about what Hermione's own thoughts were about what they were going through. They were unable to discuss much after their latest row as their time together was limited due to the circumstances at hand. Nevertheless, Ron's thoughts always went back to her bushy hair and doe brown eyes. He had so much regret over the ordeals he had put her through and knew he would continue to do so after discovering the entanglement on her behalf.

He had tried to interpret the last card of the prophecy himself as well as he couldn't the idea of Hermione in possible danger out of his head. He saw the man with the bleeding mouth, Legion, on a chair as some sort of king surrounded by the purple worms, presumably the Dark Souls. Yet, he wasn't sure what to make of it, but was concerned about the sad expression the woman had on the card. It was as if she had blessed him, though unwillingly, he thought.

Nettie was also unsure of who this Legion man was and how he was involved, but sensed a bad omen in him. She too believed he was the one behind this, but was unsure of anything to his whereabouts or possible history. The best thing to do was head into the black tower itself and find out. It was easy for her to say, thought Ron.

Shortly before Ron and Mike left for Deadside again, Ron had cast a quick patronus message to Harry, updating him on what had happened and wanting details on Hermione. Mike had told him they couldn't return to London quite yet and understood, but still wanted to know she was all right. He didn't get a response in time before leaving back to Deadside, but hoped the best for them both. He was hopeful for the discovery of new details about the muggle killer in London from their part.

After crossing back into Deadside and arriving back at the Chamber of the Ancients, they went through the same tunnel again and came back to the fork on the road as before. This time, they arrived at the coffin gate on the left path and stood before it.

"Your power level is at two now, right? It should open now," spoke Ron.

Mike walked up to the arm rest as he had done before. "We'll see."

Using all his might and strength, he drew up his Shadow Power from his core, causing the beams of aura blue light to emerge from the Mask of Shadows and be channeled through to his arms. His screams of rage and fury echoed through Ron's ears as he noticed the coffin gate glowed the same aura blue before bursting into nothing.

After recovering himself, Mike proceeded to walk through the tunnel hidden past the coffin gate with Ron close behind him. Suddenly, a sharp strangled yelp was heard in the distance ahead of them. It sounded almost like multiple human screams of panic mixed into one sinister tone and with a hint of evil.

"Hear that? Get your wand ready."

"Ah bloody hell…" whispered Ron, clenching his wand tightly, tendrils of terror and panic curling into his stomach. No matter how many times they faced them, he still had the sense of fear within him.

They treaded carefully, maintaining vigilance in all directions, eventually coming to the end of the tunnel. It had led them into a small circular area with another coffin gate to the right and another skin-like bridge, across from them. Directly below the circular area was another coffin gate, reachable by a walkway that went down. Weak light filtered through the grime-streaked dark pane.

As they exited the tunnel, Mike had his gun out in front of him ready to blow any demon that came into their way. Ron held his wand at the ready as well, continuing to survey the area. But it appeared they were alone and without any sign of the howling monstrosities they had heard. Ron was conscious of his own breathing, ears pricked, and disturbed by the hissing of the unnerving feeling of being watched.

He looked up to the dark sky and past the high ledges of the circular area they had traversed into, waiting for the beasts to come take him. Yet, they never came. The growling had stopped, almost as if they withered away by their presence. The shadows crept like tentacles across the stone walls unwelcomely. Ron yanked his shirt tighter with nervousness around his frame and could feel the ice cold of his touch. They walked around the path that led to the coffin gate on the right slowly, conserving attentiveness until they eventually reached it.

"Hmm…this one has three symbols highlighted. Look at the one below us. Three also. Shit. Guess we have no choice but to go through that bridge."

Ron looked at both coffin gates with interest. They had already encountered four of them and wondered how many more lied ahead. It was by no means a simple task – collecting Dark Souls, opening coffin gates and battling demons with limited use of magic. But he was already proud at how far they've come. This was just another fork in the road. From their position, the dark tower was unable to be seen, but hoped they were headed in the right direction.

"Guess so. But did you heard that growl sound just now? I don't like this."

"Don't tell me you're scared now?" teased Mike.

Ron ignored him and continued along the circular pathway leading to the bridge. Mike followed suit, gun still aimed in front of him while observing the area. Ron stopped at the foot of the bridge and turned around for one last quick view, but Mike continued without so much as a look back.

"Revelio," exclaimed the red head waving his wand.

But nothing happened. No creature or beast appeared before him. Not even a sound was heard apart from a rustling breeze that seemed to go hand in hand with the chilling ambience. Ron sighed, turned and headed through the bridge tunnel that would lead him to a new area with Mike.

Unexpectedly, a shadow emerged from the floor painted with darkness that formed into a human figure holding a sword. It stood directly in front of the bridge, too distant to be viewed by the men that just crossed through. A wicked smile crept his lips.

"Now the fun begins. Into Asylum."


August 27, 2000  (6:22 pm)

Undisclosed Location – London, England

Hermione was awakened by a keen clanking noise and the thudding of boots in the darkness. She looked around the unsettling pitch black room fearfully, tear stricken and in a panic. The thudding became louder and closer, causing her to jerk around as if being hit by electricity. Though, she was still half awake and quickly realized she was heavily restrained to the chair she was sitting in.

Her body trembled, blood throbbed in her ears, and her heart thumped in her chest as she felt the bile rise in her throat. Water droplets dripping onto the floor drove her mad as she continued struggling in the dim lit room with a sour stench of urine. More tears escaped her unwillingly. She tried to scream, but found it was impossible. It was as if she had lost control of her speech. Not a word could get out, making her distress rise even more.

She continued fumbling around and heard the thudding and clanking get closer with each step. Thinking quickly on her feet, she had an idea. It was tricky and required the utmost skill and discipline, but it was her last resort. Using all her might, she attempted her best to compose herself and concentrate on a wandless nonverbal spell she hoped would let her escape. Hermione had practiced wandless magic before, but as great of a witch that she was, she was almost never successful. At that moment, she wished she could have practiced it more.

She sat still, closed her eyes, and did her best to let go of her feelings. "Relashio," she thought with such focus. Hermione then opened her eyes and wriggled around, but nothing happened. "Relashio," she thought again, but it was hopeless. Her emotions got the better of her and was unable to be freed. Her heart raced again, now gasping for air as if in a deep abyss full of panic drowning her without a breath.

Her shaking body bent forward, arms still behind her restrained and in defeat. An unbroken stream of tears flowed with the force of a person vomiting on all fours. She couldn't believe what she had done to deserve this. Sitting alone in the dark murky room, foul odor and with the worry of not knowing where she was.

Her thoughts then went to Ron and more anxiety fueled her core. "Where is he? Is he safe? Please let him come back. And Harry!? My friends, please…" she thought. Hermione then reflected on the events that unfolded earlier and tried to piece together what had happened. Yet, it was useless as no matter how hard she tried, she was unable to recall the incident that led her here. The last thing she remembered was getting home after being dismissed by a suspicious Gawain Robards, leaving Harry to fend for himself. No recollection of being kidnapped was in her memory and knew it must have been wiped out by someone.

The thudding of boots now reached a point where she knew someone or something was nearby. A sudden loud bang shook her from her chair, causing her to jolt up nervously. In front of her creaked a door opening slowly, but no light entered the room.

The silhouette of a tall figure could be seen standing in front her, without making so much of a sound except for the loud door closing behind him. Her trembling didn't stop; in fact, it grew worse as her worried eyes gaped at the figure with terror and anticipation. It seemed like hours before the figure walked leisurely around her. Hermione's eyes tried to follow, but she could only break down and cry even more while trembling violently as the figure came to stand directly behind her, erupting newfound fear within her. She tried again to scream with all her strength, but no words escaped her tongue.

She then felt a hot breath on her neck, causing her to jerk her body away. Yet, it followed her closely behind her right ear, giving her goose bumps.

"Ms. Granger. Pleasure," spoke a familiar soft voice.

Hermione tensed up at the tone and turned her head to face the voice. The hot breath was no longer behind her neck or her ears, causing more waves of dread to hit her. She looked around, still tear-stricken, and aghast looking for its source. It was still behind her she thought. Hermione knew she had heard it before. It took her a few seconds before recognizing who it belonged to.

"Sorry for the restraints. And the muting. But of course, we can't have you screaming around now, can we? By the way, thanks again for the coffee. It seems like there's less and less good people in the world these days."

Hermione continued to sit disturbed in the thick black room, shutting her eyes, and quivering at knowing who the source of the gentle voice came from. The lump in her throat increased, her head was spinning and the feeling of heart palpitations were felt more than ever before at the thought of being within the grasp of a serial killer. It was John G. Peirce, the man she had met at the coffee shop. The one revealed to be the cruel and primitive muggle killer of innocent women in London. She was now his latest victim.

She heard his boots thud again and with a few steps, came back within her view. All she could see was his shadowy figure, ever so subtle in the pitch-black darkness.

"I suppose you know my identity by now. No matter. But there's no need to fear my dear. I'm not going to kill you. My master has…something rather interesting in store for you."

John edged closer to Hermione, making her struggle and move her torso back away even more. She could see some of his facial features up close, but he didn't seem like the pleasant man she had met before. There was seriousness and evil in his tender voice. Horror-struck and petrified, she could only look at him tear-stained with puffy red eyes and a hopeless expression.

He touched her chin and grazed her cheek with the back of his hand, causing her to flinch and shudder. "Hermione. What a beautiful name. What a beautiful name indeed. Such soft, delicate beauty. Often misunderstood, you are. That sorry excuse of an Auror doesn't deserve you. No, what you need is a real man that can meet your desires, your every need and offer you a love filled with trust, passion, and support. If only we could have met at different circumstances. Oh, yes…we could have definitely had a binge. Such a shame."

Hermione moved her head away from him, causing John to retract away from her and head directly back to the door where he had come from. He opened the rusty door again, squeaking with a clang. He turned back to face her before he left.

"Understand that you are where you are because of Mr. Weasley and Mr. Potter. Piece of advice Ms. Granger – don't be so logical and trust your instincts. Frequent rows about jealousy and insecurities is childish. Ron is not the one for you. And Mr. Potter, well, he's just completely arrogant and cumbersome. All they've done is brought you danger. I am that danger," he spoke menacingly. "Please, don't go anywhere," he teased with a chilling snicker and a devilish smile she was unable to see. He let the door slam behind him. Hermione heard a locking sound from the other side.

If she was wailing before then it was nothing compared to what followed. Her eyes closed tight, back arched, screaming silently at the dark, begging in her mind for Ron, Harry, or anyone to come and find her. Every pore of her body screamed in protest; the very air in her lungs seemed to freeze solid by the consumption of the abyss. She was alone and didn't know what to do.


August 27, 2000  (6:26 pm)

Ron and Hermione's Flat – London, England

Harry paced back and forth in the living room, thinking about his next plan of action. His tracking spell was not responding and after searching the area, he didn't know what else to do. There were no leads, no witnesses, nothing that could provide him with details about where Hermione could have gone.

He even apparated back nearby the coffee shop Hermione told him about where she had talked to the muggle serial killer. But there was no traceable magical presence, nor any indication of his whereabouts. He had asked the employees if they had seen the man again, but was admittedly at a dead end. Harry was also tempted going back with his Auror team despite Ron's insistence not to, but found no benefit in it. They would simply raise more questions, and possible interventions that would jeopardize their plan. No, he had to do this alone.

He finally stopped pacing around, took a seat on the couch and grabbed his hair with both hands frustrated. His best friend was now missing and concern over her safety and possible seize at the hands of a serial killer began making him anxious. What would Ron say? He couldn't believe he was unable to do the one thing he had been asked of by his best mate.

Then came the blame towards Robards at having him answer to him before he could leave. If that hadn't happened, then maybe she'd still be here, he thought. It was so strange that she just left her wand on the floor outside. No, someone had broken past the enchantments and entered their home. Yet, there was no evidence of a struggle. It was as if her assailant was invisible. He looked through the case files of each killer, but focused his attention at John G. Peirce's file specifically, trying to find any evidence that would help find him.

There was an interesting paragraph on his report made by the American private investigator, Thomas Deacon. He looked over it. He had read it before, but never paid much attention to what it said.

"The frenzy of each attack seems to indicate a highly disturbed individual who is sexually and socially inadequate with extreme misogynist tendencies, channeling his anger against women. Post mortem mutilation shows no medical knowledge. Offender is an introverted loner who will pass unnoticed through his chosen killing grounds and as such will definitely return to the scenes of his crimes."

He narrowed his gaze and read the last sentence repeatedly.

"Offender is an introverted loner who will pass unnoticed through his chosen killing grounds and as such will definitely return to the scenes of his crimes."

He read it again.

"—pass unnoticed through his chosen killing grounds and as such will definitely return to the scenes of his crimes."

And again.

"—will definitely return to the scenes of his crimes."

"This is complete bollocks!" shouted Harry in annoyance, slamming the files hard onto the floor. He got up and gazed out the window overlooking the main street. "Where are you Hermione? There must be a sign. Anything. Just give me anything."

As soon as he pleaded for a sign he noticed a ball of blue light zoom closer to the window. He stared intently as the light grew bigger and brighter. "Is that—?" But before he could finish his sentence, the blue light jolted through the window, causing him to throw himself back quickly. He aimed his wand at the light that now bounced around the room resembling much like a dog, landing before Harry's feet. It was Ron's patronus.

"Harry! You won't believe how much we've learned! We've already found several Dark Souls and know how the Five are tied to this prophecy! Hell, we've even found the prophecy itself! They're sort of like the cards from Trelawney's Divination class. Everything up until now has come true! Harry, they're building some kind of army of huge immortal beasts and are planning to have them cross into the worlds of the living, both muggle and magical! They're creating these bridges for them to cross through, I'm not sure how. But Mike and I are on it. We think we know the source. All I know is they themselves are also immortal due to the power of the Dark Souls. They're giving them these crazy abilities.

Deadside…bloody hell Harry. It's not like any nightmare I've dreamed of. I just can't even begin to describe what it's like here. We got out to consult with Nettie quickly, but we're going back, back to the suspected source – it's a black tower, we think they're connected there somehow. Please be alert mate! They aren't just regular muggle killers! They're sick with evil magic inside them! If you have anything, please message back. I'm not sure I'll get it, but it's worth trying. How's Hermione? Please let her know I love her and I'll be back soon. I'll update you as soon as I can!"

His last words ended, which made the patronus bounce all over the room again before disappearing into nothing. Harry stood there quietly, tachypneic, and with his chest pounding. He looked at the floor attentively, processing what he had just heard. Bridging an immortal army to this world? Is that how they plan to bring the apocalypse? he thought.

Then his thoughts went to the Dark Souls. They had found a few already, and were now headed to some tower to find the source of their power. He thought about how all of this could be accomplished within minutes, but then recalled the time factor in Deadside. It was a construct. It didn't seem to exist at all.

He thought arduously about returning the message, but with Hermione missing, he knew it was probably a bad idea. It would make Ron unstable and act without thinking. No, he couldn't message him quite yet. He was going back to Deadside with Mike anyway. At least he knew his best mate was safe, and was doing excellent in their mission so far.

Wiping the sweat from his forehead, a thought suddenly came to his mind. He jogged his memory back to what Hermione had said earlier in the Department of Mysteries. It had thrown him for a loop after hearing how she talked about the serial killer.

" He was quite nice actually. He was a gentleman, if I'm honest. He needed money for a coffee. I guess he had forgotten his wallet and so I offered to help him. He saw that I was crying so we just talked about boy problems. But he said he had to catch a train to see his sister, which doesn't make much sense if he had no money to begin with…"

Harry sifted quickly through the muggle report and re-read Jack's file.

"This offender, known as 'Jack II' (for reasons that will become evident later in this report), preys solely on women, striking late at night/in the early hours of the morning, on or near London Underground stations in the East End of London."

Harry thought back quickly to what Hermione said and began making the connections to the muggle report.

"—He had to catch a train to see his sister"

"—preys solely on women, striking late at night/in the early hours of the morning, on or near London Underground stations in the East End of London."

"—will definitely return to the scenes of his crimes."

He then had a moment of clarity, as if seeing the world in color vividly for the first time. A missing puzzle was finally found that had been within their grasp since the beginning all along. His mind raced, heart pounded faster and harder, breaths sharp and shallow at the striking realization he had come across.

"Son of a—Accio muggle files!" he exclaimed while aiming his wand at the floor where they had landed. They sprang up to his hand and after gathering his things, he apparated out of the flat in a flash.


Gateways, Asylum – Deadside

Both men came out of the bridge tunnel from the Paths of Shadow and landed into a cave like area with murky brown stalactites in the ceiling. Directly in front of them was a large green metal pipe, crossing the space to what appeared to be a door-less pathway across from where they were. Below the pipe showed foggy green water that smelled of filth and pollution. No sounds were heard except for the occasional steam that came out from the sides of the pipe. It went directly into a stone wall where the pathway connected.

"We have to use that pipe to reach across to that pathway over there. Watch your step, don't think we can swim in that green stuff."

Ron followed Mike's lead and jumped onto the large green pipe, carefully treading so he wouldn't slip. "Ugh! This is disgusting! A dragon's breath is more pleasant," he said while making a nauseated face.

Mike ignored him and followed the pipe until he reached the door-less pathway. After waiting for Ron to land safely they followed the pathway which converted into a closed narrow corridor made of slimy green bricks. They followed it and found themselves into a small room lit by glowing torches on the walls.

"Hmm…this area looks so…modern. It doesn't even feel like we're in Deadside. Sorta feels like I'm back at Hogwarts if I'm honest. Stone walls, torches, no demons, hell, finally a nice change of scenery don't you think?" he implored with a half-smile.

Mike stared at him keenly with his glowing aura eyes. "You're kidding, right? I sense a great evil around here. Nothing like I've felt before. Let's go. I have a bad feeling about this."

They continued and eventually found themselves on an upward walkway. Their heavy footsteps and the burning of torches covered the silence that surrounded them. Ron noticed the floor, ceiling, and walls were all made from the same slimy green bricks. No blood puddles or territory similar to the wasteland they traveled through earlier could compare to where they now were. It was unsettling, but in no way shape or form same as the hell they had been through. Moving forward, Ron sustained a tight grip on his wand, covering his backside every few seconds. Mike did the same with his Shadow Gun.

They eventually reached the end of the walkway that had led them into another small room lit by two torches on the walls to their sides. Another narrow corridor was in front of them, except this one was smaller in height. Nonetheless, still high enough for them to traverse through. Mike led the way as Ron picked up the rear. A loud clanging sound could be heard from beyond that grew louder with each step until they reached two small metal doors opening and closing repeatedly between the corridor.

"Shit. We'll have to time it. I'll go first. Be careful not to get squashed."

Ron gulped. He stared at Mike's backside as he was gauging when to cross through the slamming metal doors. With a quick spring, Mike sprinted through, just barely missing to have his left foot crushed. He waved his hand at Ron to go through next.

The red head stood firmly in front of the doors. The narrow corridor couldn't have been more than a wingspan in length. He calculated when the doors closed and with a sudden movement he threw his body forward, avoiding the metal doors.

"Blimey…who designs these bloody traps?"

Mike shrugged and turned to continue forth. With a final turn of the corridor, an exit was finally visible. They strolled quietly until they came to it. They couldn't believe their eyes at what they saw.

"Holy shit…" uttered Mike in disbelief at the dark black tower that stood before them. Ron let both his arms drop to his sides as he appeared wide eyed and mouth gaped open in shock. He didn't blink and in the depths of his gaze, had wondered what the hell he had got himself into.

A tremendously colossal dark black tower awaited them in the darkness. It was approximately fifty foot stories both high and wide and with a circular black cloud crowned above it. Both men looked like ants compared to the size of the high-rise. The metal and stone used to construct the building appeared to be rusted as it had a slight hint of green within its black walls, though it appeared heavily fortified. The tower had levels similar to that of a cake; as it rose the levels became smaller.

The design of the walls did not go unnoticed as they had large oval like black windows on the first level and above them had markings that were unrecognizable to Ron. Hundreds of evenly scattered black tinted window-less openings with bars encompassed the building. Multiple pillars surrounded the tower with searchlights attached to them. They moved in a continuous lateral motion as if searching for any signs of an intruder.

Ron then looked to his right, directly in front of the tower's gateway. He noticed a small metal door that seemed to be the only entrance as the rest of the building appeared to be heavily engineered with structural integrity. Mike looked around the area and noticed they had entered within the walls of its enormous and spacious courtyard that encircled the tower in its entirety.

They gazed at the courtyard directly below them. It was about twenty feet from where they stood and had no walkway to go down. They had to jump from the corridor they were in. Ron had a face full of concern and anxiety, knowing all too well of Mike's intention to simply jump down.

He didn't dare protest after Mike beat him first to speak. "Well, we made it. We have to put an end to whatever the hell's going on in there. Understand Weasley that the horrors you'll see aren't for the faint of heart. There are things in there that even I can't fathom so I ask that you don't break. Keep your head strong. Whatever's in there will do everything it takes to cause you to break. I can't have that. Summon that fucking Gryffindor courage or whatever the fuck you need to compose yourself. But keep your fucking head level." He pointed back up at the dark tower. "That shit is no joke. Hell, even worse than any shit I've seen. Don't break. Understand?"

Ron felt overwhelmed and looked worriedly at the tower with sweaty palms, muscles tensed and a knot in his stomach. What did I get myself into? he thought.

"Weasley!" blurted Mike, causing Ron to flinch back, keyed up in distress.

"Do you understand?" asked Mike again in a stern voice. He was beginning to lose his patience once more. Ron noticed his eyes glowed more menacingly and brighter than before, almost like blue flames were burning through them.

Ron looked between the two and with one last gulp, managed to nod his head.

"Okay then. C'mon. We can't be seen by those lights. It's damn near impossible, but we have to find a way inside. That door will be locked without a doubt. Look to both sides of the front entrance. There appears to be a gap on the floors that lead to a way below. Maybe we can get in through there. Keep your fucking guard up. We don't know what type of security they have. Expect the worse."

Without another word, Mike dropped down below onto the large empty courtyard surrounding the tower. Ron took one last look at the tower and summoned all the courage he had to do the same. He used the slowing charm to avoid breaking his knees or making a sound. They were away from the lights for now, but looked for a pattern or a way to avoid being seen.

The brightness of the search lights covered a large portion of the courtyard, nearly eighty five percent, all while moving quickly side to side. "If only we had Harry's invisibility cloak…" groaned Ron.

"We'll be alright. Hug the wall and let's go around the perimeter of the courtyard. Keep your eyes to the left and I'll stick to the right. Follow my lead."

Ron nodded and did as he was told. Together they shimmied across the courtyard to the right until the main entrance was now straight ahead from them. Ron was surprised to find the courtyard empty and without guards, demons, or signs of spirits roaming the area. Not even in the front entrance appeared to having anyone in sight. There was a walkway with street lamps leading to the front door. Yet, it appeared unreachable without being seen by the lights.

"How the hell do we get across without being seen you git?"

Mike tapped his foot, trying to think of a plan of action.

"Well?" asked Ron again fretfully.

"I'm thinking…"

"Great. Take your time why don't you. We're only just out here with our bollocks hanging out for the world to see. Better yet, for the fucking dead to see! I don't know what's worse."

A thought finally came to Mike's mind. He slapped his forehead, shook his head, then slapped Ron in the cheek.

"What the—!? Bloody hell was that for!?" he shrieked, rubbing his cheek in pain.

"You Idiot! Are you a wizard or not!? Fucking use a freezing charm and stop those two lights closest to the entrance. It'll buy us time to get by."

Ron continued rubbing his cheek, but realized Mike's plan was brilliant. "Oh! Right, that just might work." He aimed his wand across back and forth the two search lights closest to the entrance. He timed it until they finally moved away from the entrance and chanted, "Immobulus!"

A small blue beam hit both search lights right on cue and caused them to stop temporarily. "Bloody hell it worked!" exclaimed Ron with an amazed look.

"Your welcome genius. Let's go. We don't have much time to spare."

Feeling nervous, but bold, Ron followed suit closely behind, wand still at the ready, gazing vigilantly around the area, before staring up at the tower's impressive stature.

And there they were, into Asylum – like a great, black engine roaring to eternity, ravaging the already benighted landscape with its save malevolent presence. And within, legions of the truly damned. Insanity, sheer and stark and once in human form, now gutted and torn by eons of glutted indulgence. Their bloodlust flecking the oily walls, living in the shrieks of victims ensnared, hanged, drawn and quartered by the serpent's squalid writhings. This is the place they have not wanted to dream of, and the dream is now the place they partly live through.

 

 

Chapter Text

Gateways, Asylum – Deadside

"Hey, check your pocket. I think the bear is glowing," spoke Ron as he was looking at a bright beam of blue light emerging from Mike's jeans.

Mike stopped in his tracks, pulled out the bear and noted it to indeed be glowing the same bright aura blue as his eyes. "Well, shit. That saves us a lot of time then. Guess we can warp back here to the front door whenever we please. C'mon, let's go down through that opening."

The duo stood directly in front of the main entrance of the Asylum, appearing much like ants to a large boot next to the colossal tower. Funnily enough, the front door appeared normal in size for its tremendous stature, yet it was consciously locked and preventing them from getting inside. Next to the door appeared to be a metal stand, rectangular in shape, copper colored, and with a keyhole in the middle of it. Ron observed it curiously before being reprimanded by Mike to hurry along to the opening he was observing.

On either side of the entrance were small trap door-esque like openings on the ground, enabling them to enter through underground. Mike lifted the cover and noticed a green metal pipe like the one they traveled through previously. It could be used as a walkway beneath the Asylum which he noticed appeared much like sewers, except there was no water. Instead, lava surrounded the small pathway running in the same direction as the pipe, only a few feet beneath it.

"Ginger have a look at this."

Ron continued keeping surveillance of the courtyard as he moved over next to Mike and gazed inside the door on the ground. "Lava? You want us to go through there!? Are you mental!?"

"Shut up and listen! We can use that metal pipe to walk along this little passageway and into the tower. The lava looks to be two or three feet below the pipe so we should be okay. Just watch your fucking step."

"Oh bloody hell…" moaned Ron in displeasure.

The red head held up the door for Mike, enabling him to drop down below onto the metal pipe, landing with a clank. He had his gun pointed in both directions that the pipe ran through until he signaled Ron that the area was clear. With a deep breath, Ron dropped down below beside him, letting the door slam shut above him.

The underground passageway was no bigger than a traffic lane, and the ceiling was about the normal nine feet. Ron noticed the walls were made of the same murky green brick stone as the rest of the building. Their only light source was the burning lava below them, causing both men's pores to open and feel the scorching heat smack them across the face.

"Okay, let's see where this pipe takes us. Keep your wand at the ready. I don't know what the hell we'll run into down here. Keep your eyes open and don't fucking freeze, got that?"

"How can I freeze with flaming lava two feet below me?"

"Ginger…" started Mike with an annoyed tone.

"No, yeah, I got it. Don't freeze *cough* Won't freeze."

Mike shook his head in annoyance before heading in the direction that was left of the Asylum's main entrance. Small amounts of steam occasionally poured out of the sides of the pipe, warranting their careful steps. Eventually, the pipe made another left turn, which brought them to a much larger room underground. There were two stone pillars holding up the ceiling and across the pipe appeared another stone walkway that led up to a different route. Ron immediately noticed a Govi that was standing there.

"Mike! It's another one of those beehive-looking things! But how do we get across there?"

"We can't from here because of the fucking lava."

Mike looked around the room, but there was nothing else but lava in sight. He looked beyond the metal pipe that led to small rusty metal doors slamming together a few feet above. They were just as the doors they had seen before reaching the courtyard.

"Let's follow the pipe and go up through those doors. Maybe it'll lead us to that Govi."

Ron nodded and followed suit behind him, keeping vigilance for any sign of trouble that could head their way. He wiped the sweat from his brow as the excess heat of the lava began to get to him.

As they reached the slamming doors, Mike instructed him to carefully cross without being smashed, which earned him Ron's rolling eyes for pointing out the obvious. Both men easily traversed past the doors, leading them to an enclosed wooden corridor. After walking a few feet, the two were face with another set of slamming doors.

Timing correctly, the two crossed swiftly and found themselves in yet another large room, albeit this one much more lofty than the previous. Large metal pipes crossed the center of the room from the lava to the ceiling in a zig zag formation. More could be seen going around the perimeter of the room.

Ron glanced around the large room in awe. "Who the bloody hell designed this type of tower? Huge empty courtyard, sewer-like infested underground with lava; let me guess, sacrificial death chambers next?"

"I wouldn't doubt it. A god damn lunatic is sure to be behind this. It's a fucking maze down here. And it's beginning to get hot as fuck by the second. Shit, this even puts Louisiana to shame. Let's follow the pipe around the perimeter, there's another entryway at the end of it."

They made their way carefully around the metal pipes and lava, carefully avoiding the short bursts of steam that came on spontaneously from them. They found themselves at another stone corridor upon reaching the end of the pipes, leaving the lava filled underground behind. The corridor led them upward to a barred window at the end of the pathway, inciting interest from the two of them.

They looked through it carefully and noted a dark room a few feet below that reeked a fetid metallic smell. Ron became absolutely terrified upon peering at the sight below. His stomach curled and spine jerked, causing newfound panic in his eyes. "Mike…umm what the fuck is that?" pointed a horrified Ron to the small dungeon-type room below.

It was filthy. Both fresh and dry blood was smeared on the floor and walls. Little pieces of flesh and bone could be seen scattered around the dreadful room, and one of the corners contained chopped up corpses neatly stacked in a pile. Ron moved the back of his hand up to his nostrils to avoid the pungent smell, but it was useless. The foul smell of death could not escape his nose as his disgusted face could not bear to look down any longer.

Mike furrowed his brow as he stared down intently at the room. "Hmm…looks like a torture chamber. There's shackles on the walls. Guess you were right. This can't be good. Keep your wand ready. I have a feeling we're not alone. Let's continue through this way," motioned Mike to their right where the path continued. Ron continued grimacing with one last look at the room and happily followed suit. He couldn't begin to imagine the cruel and terrifying things that went on in that room and didn't want to stay to find out.

The hot air from the lava had finally cooled as they continued through the dim-lit pathway. A few steps away from the barred window showed another window sized opening into another torture chamber below them. Mike pushed Ron back as he noticed a wailer directly below, sitting calmly as if sleeping. He looked to Ron with his index finger against his mouth to keep quiet. They retracted away from the opening, causing Ron to shake his head in disbelief at the thought of dropping below into the torture chambers.

"There's a wailer down there. And the path ends here. You know what this means right?"

"Don't tell me…" spoke a clammy and nervous looking Ron who appeared to have the rays of sunshine sucked out of him.

Mike took a deep breath and nodded his head. "Yup."

"Bloody hell…what did I do to deserve this. Shit…alright…what's your plan?"

Mike retraced his steps back to the other torture chamber for a quick look and did the same with the next, hugging the wall as no to be seen by the wailer. "Those chambers down there have doors. We have to get past that demon silently to avoid being heard. We don't know what the hell else is on the other side. Not worth the risk of being ambushed."

"Right. Well, I can do a silencing charm, and immobilize it. Maybe that'll work?"

"Good idea. It's a weaker demon so maybe that curse will work. Lead the way then. I'll cover you from up here."

Ron closed his eyes tightly, took a deep breath and made his way to the opening with his chest pounding and palms sweating profusely. Mike was sure he heard Ron mutter several profanities under his breath, which he thought was amusing. The red head hugged the wall tightly and leaned over to have a good look at the demon. With a swish of his wand aimed at it, he muttered, "Silencio."

At this, the wailing demon became disturbed, finally looked up to where Ron was and stood, screaming ferociously without so much of a sound. "Petrificus Totalus," declared Ron as the white beam of light hit the demon directly on the chest, paralyzing it where it stood.

"Good job. Let's go, ladies first ginger," said Mike as he shoved Ron into to the chamber below without so much as a warning.

Feeling startled, Ron landed in a large pile of human skin that made a quirky sound upon landing. "Argghh! Fuck!" grumbled Ron as he was quick to get on his feet and dust himself off. He saw Mike land on the same pile below, looking at the flesh with curious expression. "You really are an arse you know that?"

"Quit your whining. It's just skin."

Ron scowled at him, still trying to clean the little pieces of flesh from his robes. "Still! Bloody disgusting! And that smell…Merlin's—"

But before he could finish his phrase, the Shadow Man quickly moved next to him, placing his hand over Ron's mouth and held his other index finger to his mouth, signaling him to be quiet and still.

Ron looked crossed and was about to protest when suddenly a loud squeal could be heard from beyond the door. The two men looked at each other before moving their gaze towards the door in apprehension. The squeal was heard again, albeit louder this time. Mike backed up away from Ron and held his hand out behind him, signaling him not to move or make a sound. He placed his head along the door, trying to discern the squeal that he had heard. It sounded much like the horrific sounds pigs made when they were slaughtered. He backed away from the door as he heard another more distant screech and aimed his gun to the door, prompting Ron to do the same with his wand.

But nothing ever came besides complete silence.

"Maybe we should take a look," whispered an antsy Ron.

Mike nodded and approached the door again carefully. It was handle less, but he noticed a button on the side of it and pressed it, causing the doors to split right open without notice. Mike quickly withdrew back, hugging the blood-filled wall and aiming his gun directly outside. Ron did a quick movement to hug the wall perpendicular to it and pointed his wand outside as well. They stood there, still, ready to blast anything that came their way, but not a sound was heard for minutes that began to seem like hours.

The unnerving unavoidable nothingness was beginning to get to Ron's head as he was trying hard not to let whatever monsters lurking around the corner hear the thudding in his chest. The lack of life to break the ragged breaths and the beating of a human heart. The silence was so lonely, a constant companion of Ron's innermost thoughts. Mike did not dare move a muscle neither, but he knew he had to inch closer and closer to have a good enough view to peek through the door.

He looked to Ron who nodded in acknowledgement and prepared to peer out of the door quickly. With a deep breath, Mike briskly peeked his head out. Nothing but an empty blood stained stone hallway lit by torches could be seen. There were no signs of vicious beasts or danger just yet. The hallway appeared much like a crypt with the shadows suffocating everything they touched, making the already jarring atmosphere much more frightening.

Mike looked outside for a good few minutes until he was certain the area was safe to head out into. "It's clear, c'mon," he motioned to Ron.

Starved for air, the red head gulped once more and followed him, stepping out into the hallway. Upon exiting, he noted that the right side was completely blocked by large metal bars, preventing them, again, from passing through. The left side had a similar looking small door a few feet away that he presumed was the other torture chamber they saw from before. Across the metal bars behind them followed the hallway into another path that eventually made a turn. Ron studied the walls carefully and was daunted at seeing so much blood spilled along the walls and the hard-stone floor.

Mike almost left him behind without a word as he passed the door to their left and continued through the hallway. Ron staggered quickly behind, looking in every direction to ensure they were still alone. The hallway did a turn and led them into another hallway with even more metal doors to either sides of them. Both men peered around the corner slowly to avoid being seen. But this one like the last was also empty. Nodding to each other in agreement, they soon stepped out and looked at each door curiously.

"More torture chambers?" whispered Ron inquisitively.

"Looks like it. Keep quiet and don't break your guard."

"I have a bad feeling about this…"

As the duo continued through the stone hallway plastered with blood they could hear demented shrieks of torment behind the doors. Ron felt nauseated at the smell of the underground filth and blood in conjuncture with the thought of someone or something suffering next door to him. He closed his eyes shut, trying but failing to ignore the disturbing noises that plagued his head. It's all a dream, all a dream. Only a nightmare. I'll wake up any second now. Just a dream. Not real. Not real! he thought to himself. But he never woke up as the tremors of panic were still inside him when he opened his eyes.

He stopped at a door to his right wanting to help whatever was on the other side, but Mike stopped him where he stood and aimed the gun directly to his head. With a shake of his head and a finger to his mouth for silence, he motioned for him to continue. Ron took one last look at the door and turned away remorsefully, still unable to ignore the wicked shrieks of utter terror.

They moved with caution to avoid being heard. As they made their way around a turn, they came to a particularly different looking door to their right. It was much taller than the rest they had seen. The door had a block triangle symbol that contained an eye in the center of it and a red light above. Ron observed the symbol curiously, knowing he had seen it before somewhere. His attention was then moved to a small window to the right of the door and he also noticed a similar rectangular metal stand next to it on the left, just as he had seen at the front entrance.

"Hmm… this door looks different. Take a look at this," said Ron while gazing interestedly through the window.

Mike looked through it and noticed it led into another tall room. Across from where they stood appeared a small trolley that had metal rails on the ceiling rather than the ground. It was stationed alongside a platform and looked like it could only move to the left-hand side of the room through a large tunnel, appearing much like the underground tube stations in London.

For a brief moment, Ron thought back to Hermione as she had taken him on trips via the tube in the past, much to his fascination. He shook away the thoughts after seeing yet another Govi near the trolley by its rear.

"Bloody hell, there's another one!" pointed Ron excitedly. "That's two already in such a short distance. Guess they really are here then."

Mike also recognized the Govi but what caught his interest was another tunnel behind the trolley. It was different than the hallways they were currently in as the walls were yellow orange in color. Ron seemed to notice it too as he followed Mike's gaze.

"What do you think is behind there?"

"Not sure," said Mike while observing the room carefully. "This door leads to a small walkway onto that platform there. But look below. Nothing but lava. That train cart must lead somewhere important. There's also another tunnel there on the other side. We have to find a way to open this. Let's keep going. Whatever was behind those doors back there may come out any minute. I don't want to be here when they do."

They continued traversing through the hallway, ultimately leading them into a small room, tall, but empty, save for yet another Govi in the center of the room. Behind it was a pedestal similar to the one they'd seen in the Chamber of the Ancients containing what appeared to be a gauntlet with a key at the end of it.

"Blimey, another one! At this rate we'll find them all in no time. And what's that?" pointed Ron to the mysterious gauntlet. He moved toward the strange item on the pedestal and picked it up. It was made of metal, bronze in color and felt a bit heavy to hold on one hand. "You don't think this is the key to open doors around here do you? Remember those metal box things next to the doors? They have keyholes in them. Maybe this will open it! That room into the trolley!"

Mike observed it carefully. He took it from Ron and placed his hand through it. "Hmm…it's a perfect fit. Worth a shot, I guess. It's a dead end here anyway. Let's try it, but first…" He took out his shadow gun and without warning to Ron blew the Govi open with a single blast, letting the Dark Soul present before them.

"Mike wait!"

But it was too late. Just as he held both hands to stop him, Mike reached over and touched the Dark Soul, engulfing his body within its burning flames. He shouted in pain as he got on his knees and jerked around, back arched, neck strained, and with his arms flailing spasmodically.

Ron was about to go towards him when suddenly he heard the same loud squeal as before stopping him in his tracks. He looked back in anticipation as his eyes were fixed at the hallway where they had come from. The squeal was heard again, although now coming much faster to them than before.

"Hey Mike…"

But the purple waves of darkness continued to flow through Mike's body, causing him to continue convulsing violently. Ron heard the loud squeal again, this time clearly right next to them. It resembled much like the ugly cries of slaughtered pigs as he heard before, only much more lucid, making Ron more uncomfortable by the second.

He began to step away from the hallway when suddenly two large monstrous humanoid creatures entered the room, growling savagely. Their growls made a sharp pitched noise that echoed though Ron's ears. It had been the squeal he'd heard. They appeared bare chested with large metal hooks coming out of their knuckles, and wore what appeared to be blood-stained gimp suits. Their black masks were covering their hulking face.

This was no game of hide and seek. Ron was rigid, putting statues to shame as he was caught in the crosshairs of the fierce gaze of the creatures. His legs trembled and breathing raced, unable to escape the hell hole they were now in.

"Umm…Mike…we…have…uhh…company…" uttered Ron while retreating steadily to the other end of the room.

Mike had been on all fours, still recovering from the evil power he consumed from the Dark Soul. He coughed and touched his chest, trying to regain his strength and compose himself. He looked up at the monstrosities before him and upon seeing his face they roared ostentatiously. The sound embodied rage, a promise of death coming swiftly. The Shadow Man could be seen, glimmering in the gloom, grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm.

And then the two beasts charged with another loud squeal, galloping to both men's impending doom with wild swings of their metal hooks.

"Mike! Shit!" yelled Ron as he was unable to perform a shield charm in time. But Mike had reacted and pulled out the one thing that could save them in that moment. The last thing Ron remembered was seeing a bright blue beam of light encompassing the room before it turned to an empty void. He was sure that he had died.


August 27, 2000 (6:29 pm)

Undisclosed Location – London, England

It had been mere minutes before John had left Hermione alone, but to her it had felt like an eternity weeping in utter darkness. The loneliness was a vice in her heart, squeezing with just enough pressure to be a constant pain. She couldn't control herself. She felt like paper chains in the rain and knew the sky held nothing but promise of more storms. Her world turned empty and cold, like a slow poison for the soul. She reflected over her futile attempts to escape. She had tried everything. For being such a brilliant witch, she was clueless in that given moment. Hermione was not the type to ever give up in a bad situation, yet, her worst fears had come true. She had failed and was alone to suffer through it.

Her thoughts went to the safety of her parents, of Ron, Harry, and the rest of her newfound family and wondered for a brief moment if anyone was even searching for her at all. Being trapped by herself in the filthy room to be alone with her thoughts took her back to when she was tortured by Bellatrix. Her emotions waved high with an undefined pitch. She began suffering such inquietude that she now anticipated it, being tortured once more, though now more on a psychological level than anything.

She tried to focus on the happy times, but it was useless. Her warmth dwindled as she was unable to escape the abyss she was drowning in. The rest of the world could be seen, drifting farther and farther away as teardrops made up her ocean. They fell into her parted lips and stuck to her eyelashes. Her head was tilted forward in defeat, her bushy masses covering her teary face. She was lost. Succumbed to whatever horrors awaited her.

She then remembered something Ron had told her while she went back to school for her seventh year. He had mentioned she was not made to be fighting, despite her cunning skill, courage and brilliance. And while she agreed to some extent, she never fully accepted that statement as deep inside she wanted to prove to him that she was indeed a fighter. Perhaps not a physical fighter, but one nonetheless. Yet, now, she felt impractical and broken.

Then suddenly, a horrifying sound of multiple demonic voices combined into one spine-chilling tone spoke to her. She was not prepared to heed such a malicious sound.

"Stop your senseless whimpering and listen to what I have to say," spoke the voice in the darkness.

Hermione jerked her head up feeling startled, scanning her eyes side to side to look for the sound of the fiendish voice. She could not take much more. Her heart was threatening to burst forth from her ribcage.

"I see right through you Hermione Granger. Your fears, your failures, your suffering. Such pity. Tell me. How does it feel to be dead?"

Hermione shook where she sat, trembling in fear as her heart continued pounding while her stomach twisted into a knot. Her fists were clenched behind her back, until the nails dug into her hand. She didn't dare speak a word. It was not like she could anyway. Only a slight muffling sound was heard that escaped her lips.

"Oh, pardon me."

With a wave of the voice's hand, the silencing spell that was placed on Hermione was removed, enabling her to hear her own sniffling and gasps for air.

"Oh my god…where am I!? Who's there!? Please…please don't hurt me…" she stammered while curling her petite frame closer to the chair.

The voice in the darkness seemed amused as it gave a short snicker. "I'm not here to hurt you. I'm here to…help you. Yes. I'm here to ease your fears and give you what you desire."

"Please…please just let me go. Please, I beg you!" insisted Hermione, utterly distraught and perturbed.

"Like Peirce told you. You have nothing to fear. I'm not here to hurt you. I'm here to help."

The more she heard the voice speak, the more anxious she became by the minute. It didn't sound natural. It wasn't like any human voice. No, this had an immoral and diabolical hint to it, sending more chills down her spine.

"Help!? You can help by letting me go! Please! I'm of no worth to you!" The tears continued to spill out of her eyes like a broken faucet and such brittleness was croaked in her voice.

"Oh but you are. You have no idea. No idea just how much. You are everything to me. And you will succeed. The prophecy has spoken."

At this Hermione tilted her head back in mix of curiosity and fluster. "What?" She could hear the thudding of some footsteps pacing back and forth from behind her.

"Yes. You are the key to my great dark engine. The key to invigorating the souls across my armies in Deadside."

"I don't understand! I don't know what you're on about! I'm just a witch trying to do some good in the world! Please! Just let me go!"

"You will do good. For me. Yes. I can guarantee it."

She noticed the thudding of steps move from her periphery directly in front of her. She was now able to catch a glimpse of the figure appearing much like a tall man. He was holding something between his hands, but she was unable to see as the shadows engulfed the room.

"I'm quite fond of the darkness here, but it seems I have to show you the light."

With a quick snap of his fingers, dazzling light came on above them, blinding Hermione for a quick second. She quickly recovered and faced the floor. She perceived small geometric shapes floating around her vision as her eyes attempted to adjust to the sudden brightness. Shifting her gaze around the room she noticed the walls were murky green and made of stone, same as the floor. The ceiling had large metal pipes above that went through the walls. But the sight that made her feel the lump in her throat again was the man that stood before her.

She stared horror-struck and appalled at the man's persistent spill of blood from his mouth and his ice cold blue eyes. She gulped and didn't dare gawp at the man any longer out of fear of his presence.

"Who—who are y-you?" she asked nervously, stumbling over her words.

The man tilted his head to the side as if carefully distinguishing every detail of her to his memory. "My name is Legion. For we are many."

At hearing his name Hermione did a once over at the man, now petrified as ice flowed through her veins. The world was crumbling apart around her. She no longer shook. She just sat there in total paralysis at hearing the familiarity of his name.

It seemed like hours, but only seconds before Hermione finally found the courage to speak. "It's…you. The man my father attended to in his office. Oh my god…no…please…don't tell me. Please! Don't hurt them! They've done nothing wrong!"

"I'm not just a man Hermione. I'm…more. And I don't think I have, yet."

"Please…not my parents…" she mumbled as every hope she once had was swallowed into the abyss.

"I will do what I must. And you will too. Willingly or unwillingly, you will serve my purpose and fulfill the prophecy."

"No…I-I don't know what you're on about…"

The man moved his right arm out in front of him, palm facing Hermione's frame. "It's too late. Always has been. Always will be. Too late."

And with his last words Legion waved his hand in front of Hermione, producing a violent roar of screams that turned into a purple Dark Soul, immersing her complete body. Hermione screamed in pain as the waves of darkness flickered through into her core, causing her to quake furiously in her seat.

Legion smiled at the frightening display until her body went limp and she lost consciousness. The wicked man snapped his fingers, breaking the invisible shackles she was placed in and levitated her body with a simple gesture of his right hand. She rose from the chair and drifted afloat, as if being suspended by unseen wiring from the ceiling.

Legion observed her closely before placing his palm onto her forehead, letting one last bit of purple hues enter her head. He waved his hand once more, bringing her body back down into the chair. She was bent forward again, letting her hair hang out in front of her.

With a snap of his fingers, he spoke, "Rise."

Hermione slowly lifted her head, hair still out in front of her in such a tangled mess. She was motionless and empty, but something was different about her. She no longer seemed full of life and emotion and instead appeared puppet-like, as if in a trance.

"Stand," spoke the menacing blend of demonic voices.

Hermione did as she was told, her face now fully visible. Her doe brown eyes, now filled with a chilling ghostly tinge, faced the floor, defunct and without emotion. Hermione was gone, replaced by an uncanny empty shell too numb to feel the pain anymore, her soul now condemned into a spiritual void.

"You will send a message to Mr. Weasley in Deadside convincing him of your safety as well as Mr. Potter's. You will find the use of a wand will not be required. You are still yourself. The same brilliant and bright witch of your age. Only better. The Dark Soul I entrusted you with now fuels your vitals to bursting. They will come for you. See to it that they carry on with the prophecy. You shall not fail…"

At this, Hermione shifted her eyes to face Legion. With a blunt and dispassionate tone she said, "For we are many…"

Legion gave a wicked smile, before disappearing into nothingness.

"Amen to that."


August 27, 2000  (6:33 pm)

Whitechapel Station – London, England

Harry quietly maneuvered his way down the stairs deep into Whitechapel Station, looking past the crowds of muggles for any signs of the serial killer. As he reached the bottom he searched for the area where the body of Marie Nicholas, the latest muggle who was unfortunately killed at the hands of Jack the Ripper's impersonator, was previously inspected.

After making the connections in the files with Hermione's account, Harry had discerned the best place to look for clues was to start where the latest victim was murdered. Of particular interest was the mention from Hermione that the killer had to catch a train to see his sister as his file supported evidence that he abducted women in the late and early hours of underground stations. This made Harry suspect that he would indeed be coming back to the places where he committed murder. He and Ron had been searching the wrong stations when tasked by Robards and should have instead looked back to the scenes of the crimes.

Nevertheless, Harry was unsure why any criminal would want to return to the scene of the crime, but still placed his faith in knowing the killer was surely in Whitechapel. He also understood he had come to the station rashly and into possible danger, but he had the cloak with him and knew he had to rely on himself to find Hermione.

Continuing forth, Harry was careful to avoid touching any muggles to not give away his presence, which proved to be a bit difficult with the crowds walking by in both directions simultaneously. He finally reached the spot where Marie Nicholas' body laid, knelt down to examine the floor and performed an analysis charm, looking for any changes since his last visit. After a few seconds, the analysis came back clean, making him frown in disappointment. He studied his surroundings closely and looked up to the sky, which he noticed was beginning to get gloomy.

He then remembered the scrawl that had been written on the entrance to the tunnel near another stop and headed for it. With the cloak over him he traversed carefully, continuing to scan his periphery for any signs of the serial killer. Though, this too proved difficult as he had no idea if the man he was looking for resembled anything like the artist's impression photo from the files.

As he reached the entryway, he noticed the scrawl on the wall was gone. He glared at the brick wall and muttered some unpleasantries under his breath in bitterness, shaking his head in annoyance. He looked at the wall again and failed to notice the small symbol of an eye inside a block shaped pyramid, which he now stared at curiously.

"I've seen that symbol before, but where? Robards must've had the Aurors remove the writing out of suspicion."

Harry rubbed his chin as he was lost in deep thought, trying to recall the familiarity of the symbol. He then remembered something and pulled out the serial killer reports. He moved quickly out of people's way and sat on a nearby bench, searching through the files quickly. He read the same poem that was previously on the wall from Jack's file, and noticed the same pyramid symbol next to it.

"I guess I saw the symbol on this report. But I know I've seen it somewhere else…"

Harry then rummaged through the other files and tried to make more connections, hoping for something that would lead him to Hermione's whereabouts. He knew he was running out of time and was afraid to be contacted by Ron again. He had to find details pertaining to her safety and fast. He looked over and read each killers' poems, trying to make sense of a possible hidden meaning behind them.

"The Lizard King shall lead the Five—

From out of the southern gaol shall cut his

bloody swathe.

True hate shall find a way—in Him the

darkness stands revealed,

His eyes as void as a dead man's gaze,

As cold as the light from a dying star.

For in the western deserts He finds a form—

He is the Child with the Mouth of Blood,

The bleakness before the Beginning of Time,

He is the glint of ice in a murderer's eye,

The savage heart of every crime.

And lo, if War should have a face,

This one of Five would show the bleeding mask:

Ears pricked to savor every scream,

Teeth bared to strip the carcass wet,

And tongues to lap the vessels dry.

From the east the idiot monster cometh,

With nails to announce the blasphemous intent.

In still dark chambers it awaits the Shadow—

Ebon body, scars of power—

Dark Messiah with a hideous strength.

"The Watchers at the Gate of Souls shall make the Way.

The Five are red in tooth and claw.

The head, the heart, the hands, the teeth, the eyes

All combine to create the Five

For We Are Many…"

Harry became distraught and rubbed the bridge of his nose in frustration. "What the hell does all this rubbish mean?" He sighed and continued looking through the files, looking up every few seconds for anything out of the ordinary. He stared intently into the artist's impression photo of Jack and studied the names of the women he had killed.

"Anna Chaplin, Shoreditch Station. Eliza Strider, Aldgate East Station, Katrina Eddison, Aldgate Station, Marie Nicholas, Whitechapel Station. Hmm… they're all on the East End of London. Maybe I should look into those stations. But with all these muggles at this time, and the fact that he only strikes at night, no…I'm not gonna find anything. And I just can't wait until nightfall! Please Hermione…be safe…where are you?"

Harry even performed a charm to examine the last spell used by her wand, but it was no help and gave no indication of her location. She's compromised. I have to inform the rest of the team. She's in danger. he thought.

As Harry was venting to himself in annoyance and thinking about the next course of action, he failed to notice the man that passed behind him with the thick chevron mustache carrying a briefcase. The man looked to the bench where Harry sat, which appeared empty as if no one was there to his eyes, but for some reason he knew and could feel Harry's presence.

He walked along to the next platform some distance away, facing his back towards Harry as if waiting for the next train. "My master was right. He knew Potter would be here. I can't see him, but it's him, I can feel it. Well then, let's give him a clue to his friend, shall we?"

John cleared his throat and began to strike up a conversation with a muggle woman next to him, albeit rather loudly. "Umm, evening!" he said a little too loudly with a smile to the woman. She appeared slightly taken aback at the sudden greeting, but returned the hello with a bitter smile.

"Ah! Fine day, isn't it? Good day to ride the tube! Yes, indeed!"

The woman continued to look unsure of herself, maintaining her awkward expression. "I suppose so…"

John shifted his gaze towards where Harry sat for a moment and began talking louder. "So sorry! I'm a bit hard of hearing! It's good to travel by tube today isn't it!?"

The woman made a sour expression, lifted an eyebrow, and covered her right ear for a moment. "Sir, you don't have to yell." She began to look annoyed and proceeded to ignore John.

This earned her an apologetic look from him that she failed to notice. "So sorry! What was that!?"

But the woman stopped responding and waved him off, clearly irritated with him. The rest of the muggles waiting on the platform also gave him displeased looks at his obnoxious shouting.

John face them and spoke loudly again. "Sorry! I'm visiting my sister! And I'm just bloody thrilled to see her again! Her name is Hermi—"

"Look mate, we don't care! Can you shut the bloody hell up! For goodness sake, you're killing us here. Please! Some quiet if you may!? We're just trying to catch the tube," spoke an overweight angry muggle man that was next to him.

John placed his arms in the air as if understanding to stop and quickly made his away from the platform and in the direction of the stairs. He did not dare look back, but knew all too well that Harry had been observing the little fiasco he started.

As soon as John began speaking loudly, he caught Harry's interest who began listening on intently. At the mention of having to catch a train to see his sister, Harry had quickly risen from his seat and walked toward the other platform, wand gripped tight in tow. He hadn't seen John's face as his back side was still toward him, but knew it had to be him.

Harry became astonished at the fact that the strange man was rearing to say Hermione was his sister, the last straw in the manner. But due to the frequency of muggles passing through and those near him, Harry was unable to act deliberately. He waited until the man began walking away after being scorned by the muggles and Harry quickly followed suit.

Passing smoothly around the muggles in opposite directions he continued up the stairs, trying not to lose the man out of his sights. A few more steps to the top, John had hastened his pace and for a brief moment, was out of Harry's focus, causing him to bolt up the remaining stairs.

Upon reaching the top Harry had his wand out in front of him, no longer caring who saw him curse the man. But in scanning his surroundings, John was nowhere to be found. "You've got to be joking…no, no, no!" He quickly ran around the small area looking frantically around, but no sign of the killer was found.

Thinking quickly, Harry aimed his wand at the ground beneath the cloak, and exclaimed, "Appare Vestigium!" while turning in a circular motion. A swirl burst of gold light emanated from his wand and lit up the floor, revealing magical footprints a few feet away.

"I've got you now you bloody tosser…"

Harry followed the steps that eventually led him around a corner of the station and into the loo. Frowning to himself, Harry entered briskly, wand at the ready to hex the man into oblivion. He looked around the loo for signs of the individual and found that it was empty. The tracks stopped at one of the stalls which he opened carefully, wand aimed directly inside.

But no one was there, making the rage inside Harry build, causing him to slam the door vehemently. "Fuck! No…no…where'd he go!?" he yelled as he pulled the cloak off. Just as he was about to survey the area, a particular item of interest caught his attention.

"What's this?"

It was the briefcase John was carrying. Harry opened the stall door open again and picked it up. It had no lock. Curiously, Harry looked around the loo before knowing it was clear to look inside. But upon opening it, his world was thrown for a loop. He was sucked straight into it and Harry felt as though a hook just behind his naval had suddenly jerked irresistibly forward.

It was a portkey. His field of view turned on its side and swirled rapidly with a sharp noise heard in the distance. A few seconds later, the swirling stopped and Harry landed on his back, gasping for air. He sat up quickly and gripped his wand out in front of him.

As he recovered, he dusted himself off and surveyed the dark area that the briefcase had brought him too. It was a small room, ill-lit, and mucky, with the foul stench from the sewers slap him in the face.

"Oh, don't tell me…"

"Hello Harry," spoke a soft voice behind him, causing him to turn speedily.

Upon seeing who it was his jaw dropped in horror. Harry felt a lightning crackle through his veins and at that moment time stopped. He couldn't believe who it was.


Marrow Gates – Deadside

Ron's head throbbed as he finally opened his eyes, attempting to view his surroundings. Feeling disoriented and sore throughout his body he massaged his temple with his hand, while using the other to sit up.

"A bit banged up, are we?" spoke a familiar Irish accent.

Ron rubbed his eyes to see the slithering figure around him.

"What's the matter lad? Hit your head too hard on the landing, I see."

"Arghhh…my head…bloody…where am I?"

"Well at the Marrow Gates of course! Didn't expect to see the two of you back so soon!"

Ron blinked rapidly while trying to compose himself despite feeling lightheaded and confused. The last thing he recalled was seeing a bright blue light encompass the room in the dark tower before being surely mauled to death by savage beasts.

"I'm alive?"

The serpent slithered around him, while giving a short laugh. "Of course you're not lad! This be Deadside of course! We're all dead!"

Ron shut his eyes tight and massaged his forehead. "Very funny. Where's Mike? What happened?"

"Right here," spoke a raspy tone some feet away.

Upon opening his eyes he saw the Shadow Man with crossed arms by the large fangs in front of the gates. His gaze was away from Ron and towards the dark black tower that could be seen in the distance. Ron looked to it as well and was more than happy that they had left that dreadful place.

"Mikey here tells me you've been inside! Quite awful I imagine."

Ron finally stood, still massaging his head in pain. "That place is an abomination, worse than any nightmare I've had. But wait, what happened? How are we here?" the red head asked.

Mike pulled out the teddy bear from his pocket and showed Ron while giving it a good shake. "Saved your life thanks to this. But we must go back," he implored, which caused Ron and Jaunty to turn their heads in unison.

Ron gave Mike the finger. "You're mental. Did you not see what the fuck was going on down there? Not bloody likely that I'll be going back."

Jaunty slithered along towards Mike's ebony shape. "Well it looks like the young wizard here has spoken! Too much for him, perhaps?"

"Too much!? It's a fucking mad house! More dreadful than even the most twisted mind could have imagined! Fuck I thought the atmosphere here was bad, no fucking way! This place here is sunshine and daisies compared to the tower!" As he vented he felt the pain in his head throb more, making his pain more unbearable.

"Ginger, I told you to be ready for the worst. Even I agree it's psychotic. A total antithesis of the world. But the place is filled with Dark Souls that we need. Every second we don't act those killers get closer to bringing those armies across to Liveside. Jaunty, that's why I brought us here. Surely you must know something about where to look."

"Me?" asked the snake sarcastically, arching his body back.

Mike uncrossed the arms and walked towards the serpent, which caused it to retreat. "Jaunty, don't play games now. We've found the prophecy. Nettie informed us that we have to find a way to reach the Five from within that dark tower. I guess it's called the Asylum? That's what the cards say anyway. It would seem that the serial killers Thomas Deacon profiled for use are, indeed, preparing for the crossing over of the Dark Soul armies. I know that you and I may pass freely between the worlds of Deadside and Liveside, but what of the Five? How is that they have been able to journey across the veil from the Asylum to their Liveside lairs?"

Jaunty was finally backed up into a corner, before he slithered around Mike back towards the fangs out of fear of being pummeled. "Mmm…well there was that little incident with Tommy Lee's undead gang a while back…seemed like an aberration at the time. But, thinking about it, could've been a trial run. Y'know, this may sound crazy, but I think you should be looking for a corpse – or five of them."

Ron appeared confused. "Five corpses? What for?"

Jaunty continued. "The way I see it, you trap two souls and keep 'em in a state of flux between the worlds – one in Deadside, the other Liveside. Neither can cross over from one plane of existence to the next, nor pass on beyond. Ergo, a schism, or bridge is formed between the worlds. So, yes, you're looking for five ritually slaughtered corpses somewhere in the Asylum."

Ron and Mike looked at each other skeptically and then at Jaunty with ludicrous expressions at hearing his simple minded words.

Mike was the one to speak. "Jaunty, there are a great many corpses in the Asylum you idiot."

"Granted – but these'll be special in some way – in a special place. Of course, if you do manage to find your way across to these psycho-loonies, you better have your shadow powers at the ready…I got a feeling you're going to need 'em."

Ron still looked at the snake as if he had grown an extra head. "So that's your big advice then? Look for five corpses in a fucking place where there's literally hundreds? Let's just hang ourselves by the bollocks now, why don't we? I mean where do we even star—"

At this, an idea popped into Ron's head. "Bloody hell…Mike! That room! The one with the trolley cart inside. I'll bet you anything that'll lead us to where we have to go."

"How could you be sure?"

Ron shrugged. "I'm not, exactly, but it's worth a shot. I told you it had a key slot in that metal box thing that was next to it. We'll have to use the key gauntlet thing that we found. The only problem is those fucking pig-like creatures in gimp suits."

"Gimp suits?" asked jaunty with a disgusted skull face.

"These fat green creatures with hooks on their arms. They have these black suits and masks. I've never faced enemies like them. If I hadn't brought us here, we'd be cut up surely," said Mike. "I have to increase my shadow powers…but I can't do that if I'm here talking bullshit!"

Ron was lost in thought as he was thinking intently about their venture inside the underground of the Asylum. His head was discombobulated and could not get over the fact that they needed to go back to that demented place. He remembered the filth, the horror, the terrifying noises of torture and squeals of monsters that lurked beyond. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind.

Mike spoke again. "I have an idea. And you're not gonna like it Weasley."

"What is it?" Ron asked apprehensively.

Mike pulled out the gauntlet with the key on its end. "The front entrance had a similar keyhole thing as the other door leading to the trolley. What if we open it first?"

Ron scowled. "Through the front gate? Are you mad!? They'll be expecting us! Shit what if security has doubled by now? They know we've been there!"

"I know, but it may lead us to more Govi. It can give me a chance to increase my powers. I have a feeling the spells you've used up until now might not work on those hook things. Besides, this key might not even work on the door to the trolley. It's not worth the risk heading all the fuck back down there again. C'mon we gotta do this."

Ron continued to look fed up with narrowed eyes, rigid posture and pinched expression. "How the hell—"

But Ron was never able to finish his sentence as he saw a lightning fast jolt of silver blue light bounce around the entrance to the Marrow Gates. Both men and the serpent looked at it intently as it continued moving around. Mike pulled out his gun in defense, but Ron pushed his hand down, knowing all too well what the light was.

He walked steadily to the center of the small area in between the pits of fire where the light finally came to a stop. It took the shape of an otter at Ron's feet, making his heart pound harder than it ever did in the tower. But it was not out of fear, but instead happiness. He smiled, with slight tears of delight forming at the edge of his eyes.

"Ron?" Called out Hermione's voice from the silver blue light.

Jaunty was about to slither along to get a closer look but was stopped by Mike, who shook his head at him, leaving Ron to observe for himself.

"Hermione…" uttered a gleeful and grinning Ron, wiping the tears that had formed. To him it had felt like an eternity since he last made contact with Hermione and couldn't be happier than to see her patronus floating around. He fell to his knees and moved his touch through the light.

"Ron. I'm safe. I'm with Harry. Please don't worry. We're still trying to help you from our end. I'm so proud of you Ronald. Please, never forget that. Continue with your mission. Get all the Dark Souls and quickly! Time's running out! I love you…stay safe."

And with her last words, a frown was formed on Mike's face. Jaunty noticed this and he too looked on at the light coolly, sensing something was off.

Ron noticed the light turned back into the otter who remained still in front of him. Knowing what it was waiting for, Ron took his wand and gave it a swish, forming his own Jack Russell Terrier patronus right next to the otter. He smiled blissfully at the scene that took place. The little dog began chasing after the otter in circles, making Ron laugh for the first time since his arrival to Deadside.

Jaunty looked at Mike with a curious expression and edged close to him near his ear. "What the hell was all that about," he whispered.

Mike shrugged. "Something doesn't feel right. Those messages and that type of magic shouldn't work here. It's built on happy memories. But look at where we are, infinite limbo, darkness, nothingness, evil. It doesn't make sense."

"You're sensing voodoo is at play?" asked Jaunty while looking at Ron hesitantly.

But Mike didn't say a word as he continued staring at Ron's backside who didn't seem to care to be seen reminiscing over the good times he had with Hermione in the desolate place of Deadside.

"Are you gonna tell him?"

"No. He needs this spark. He was pretty shaken up back there in the tower. We still have a job to do. I'll just keep an eye out for any outer interference. You contact Nettie and update her on the plan."

"Will do!" said the snake as they continued looking at Ron play like a little boy with both patronuses.

After a few seconds the otter began increasing its pace away from the terrier, wisped up into the air and vanished, leaving the terrier to look around frantically for it. Ron's smile faded at the display. The terrier gazed above to the dark green clouds, before coming back to Ron with a saddened expression. Not long after it too vanished.

With a deep breath, Ron finally stood, gripped his wand tightly and turned to face Mike and Jaunty. "It's settled then. Let's go back. Through the front door. I'm ready now."

Chapter Text

August 27, 2000 (6:40 pm)

Undisclosed Location – London, England

"H-Hermione!?" blurted Harry dazed, blood void from his pale face as he stared dumbfounded at her. For a brief second his grief was suspended, the surprise protecting him until it shattered like glass. He couldn't believe it. She offered a small smile, prompting him to draw closer to her. He didn't wait much longer as relief came over him and soon embraced her tightly. He shut his eyes and beamed at having found his best friend unscathed, mitigating his concerns.

But he sensed something was off as Hermione didn't return the hug and the friendly embrace was short lived. The smile on his face withered as he let her go, giving her a once over. She looked unharmed. He couldn't see any injuries, but sensed something was different about her. She gave off a different vibe, much more flinty and blank than her usually persistent rationale self.

"What's wrong? What happened!?"

Hermione looked at him with a faint expression, before realizing what Legion had told her and immediately put up the facade. She looked unsure of herself, and didn't seem thankful to have been found. Harry observed her carefully, not fully understanding why his best friend was behaving strangely.

"Hermione?"

She blinked quickly, thinking of an excuse to avoid giving off a peculiar display to him. She looked down at her feet, taking a sudden interest in the galvanized steel grate floor. "I'm not sure. One minute I was at home and the next here," she said plainly.

Harry's face appeared white, holding ubiquitous square shoulders and slick eyes. He and Ron interrogated many criminals in the past and often saw past their lies. Their training in Legilimency was ambitious at best, but still had some sense when the truth was bent. Harry now had some suspicion with Hermione's body movement and the manner in which she was conducting herself.

"Did you see anything? Anyone at all?"

Hermione shook her head and moved her gaze around the grimy room where they lurked, refraining from looking at his green eyes. "I'm afraid not Harry. I don't…quite remember," she said sincerely with a muddled look, averting his watch.

Harry thought attentively to himself. They must have done something to her head. Something's not right. Why does she seem so indifferent?

"Harry?" murmured Hermione, finally looking at him with a curious expression.

Harry was shaken out of his thoughts as she called his name and studied her again intently. "What is it?"

Hermione continued to look unsure of herself as she rubbed her left arm and glanced around the murky room again. "Where are we?"

Harry too looked around the room, completely clueless about where the portkey had taken him. They were in a dimly lit room, bare, save for a seemingly half-broken light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The stench in the room got to him as he could not shake off the putrid smell of sewer water. He then remembered he'd been on the presumed killer's tail and gripped his wand tighter, now feeling wary and alert.

"I'm not sure. But we have to get out of here. I think I found him."

"Who?"

"Jack the—or the muggle killer, whatever! Point is that I know he's here somewhere. Hermione, please try to remember! Something must have happened. You went missing! Right after meeting with Robards, we agreed to meet at your home—"

"Yes, I remember, but—"

"But you weren't there! I've been looking for you like crazy! You seriously can't remember a thing?"

But Hermione appeared more confused and desolate, as if looking frantically for answers. She maintained her bluff story of amnesia, raised an eyebrow and looked at him as if he had grown an extra head. "I'm sorry Harry. I'm trying to, but I can't remember anything. What about Ron? Is he safe?"

Harry was beginning to think if he should worry. He never saw Hermione like this. She was normally full of energy and emotion, yet the person in front of him didn't seem like her at all. It was an endeavor just to get her attention. Something was weighing her down. He heard her say one thing, yet her body language told otherwise.

"Hermione…are you sure you're okay?" he asked doubtfully.

She noticed his suspicion and quickly worked to change her demeanor. She momentarily forgot he was an Auror and could see past deceit. She stood straighter, shoulders level and stared at him with sorrow in her eyes.

"Yes, why wouldn't I be? I've told you, I don't remember anything. And what about Ron Harry? How long has it been since he left? Have you made contact with him in my absence?" She tried to sound sincere.

Made contact with him in my absence? Blimey, something is wrong. He contemplated telling her the truth but thought better of it. "Umm…no. Haven't heard a thing. Must still be with Mike in Deadside," he lied while avoiding her gaze.

At this Hermione seemed to nod in understanding, which made Harry more mistrustful of her behavior. Is she really just going to accept that answer like that? He saw her walk around the small room to observe the walls. She grazed her hand along the walls and stopped at the sole rusted door. She turned back to face him.

"How is it that you're here? How did you find me?"

The question caught him off guard as he was beginning to feel uncertain around her presence. "Oh. Long story. But I told you. After I left Robards I went back to your flat. Except you weren't there and so I uhh…began looking for you. I saw your wand out in the lawn—oh, here." Harry mentally cursed at himself for bringing up her wand out of suspicion for her behavior.

He hesitantly took the wand out of his pocket and handed it to her, awaiting skeptically for some kind of reaction out of her, but it never came. She observed it curiously, as if picking it up from Ollivander's for the first time.

"Anyway, I thought you had been taken as I saw it on the ground. I even went to that coffee shop you were in with the muggle killer. Bet you remember that huh? But nothing. No sign of you. I then picked something up in the muggle files and went to Whitechapel for clues. And my hunch was right, the killer was there. He led me to you actually. It's quite complicated. I chased after him to some loo within the station but lost his trace. He had this briefcase, which I recovered and upon opening it, well, knew it was a portkey. And so it brought me here."

As he was telling Hermione of his little journey to finding her, he noticed she was too enthralled with her wand more than anything. It was as if she hadn't been paying attention to a thing he said. He saw her finally place the wand away and turned away from him heading back toward the door.

"Hey wait!" exclaimed Harry while grabbing her arm.

She gave him a miffed look, much like the times she gave Ron in the middle of a row. "What is it now? You just said the killer led you here. Well, let's go get him."

Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing. He felt his muscles struggling to compensate for his lack of balance. "Hermione…this isn't like you. Since when do you go out looking for trouble? We have no idea where we are! What if it's a trap!? What if this is part of something bigger? This isn't logical and you always think logically!"

But no sense was knocked into her as she rolled her eyes at him. "Honestly Harry! I'm not sure how I got here, but we have to help Ron and we finally have our chance. I want him to come back dammit! So stop being such a blighter and let's go!" she said as she shook away her arm from his grasp.

Harry wore a puzzled look while his mind was still a surging perplexity. Confliction plagued him. Inside he was fireworks, frustration, and fear. Hermione was different. This wasn't like her at all. He saw her about to open the door when he shut his eyes, trying to get the battle within his head straight. Trusting his instinct and hoping not to regret his decision he raised his wand and pointed it straight at her backside.

"Don't…don't open it."

She stopped in her tracks and could feel the tension build within the room. The already chilling ambience fell deeper still; the fragile peace was over before it really had the chance to take root. Harry's mouth was dryer than a sandbox in the summer. Hermione was dull, feeling the air so brittle it could snap.

"I don't know what happened to you Hermione or what they did, but this isn't like you at all. Maybe we should just leave," spoke Harry diligently.

Legion had told her she wouldn't fail. Any means necessary to fulfill the prophecy was all that she could think about. She was much better now. The destructive power of corruption and insanity took over her mind after being gifted with a Dark Soul. A tinge of evil swept across her face briefly before she turned back slowly to face him again, forcing tears from her eyes to feign emotion. Harry was surprised at this, now unsure how to respond.

"Harry, it's me. You're my best friend. I know what you're thinking and you're wrong. I can't leave now! It's for Ron. I just want this to be over," she croaked, appearing defeated and tired of having to prove herself. For a moment Harry felt ashamed and rueful at thinking something was wrong with his friend. But there was still a mental battle going on inside his head. He could feel the fear in his chest waiting to take over and wasn't sure what to believe.

Hermione continued looking downhearted with a gaze that spoke to him that she really was the same person, despite expressing a few odd behaviors. She had the same look after Ron left them in their search for horcruxes. His mind then went to the safety of his best mate and thought about what he would think of the situation. He would know of course, without a doubt. Ron knew Hermione better than anyone.

Harry eventually sighed and lowered his wand in defeat. Though, in the back of his mind he still had some doubts about her. Fine. I'll play your little game. We'll see who's telling the truth.."I'm sorry. I'm just tense, is all. I was really worried about you. I didn't know what to think," he said, looking down bashfully.

Hermione wiped her fake tears and went over to embrace him. Harry hugged her tightly, failing to see the slight fluttering of purple waves in her cunning eyes. Hermione blinked quickly and let him go, finally smiling at him.

"I'm sorry too. I should be more careful. And yes, logical. I guess I was being reckless. Please, forgive me. Why don't you take point?"

Harry smiled and nodded, proceeding to head to the door when Hermione gave his backside an evil smile that he missed. With a quick swish of his wand, he recited, "Alohamora!"

Hearing a clicking sound from the other side of the door, he turned the knob slowly, sticking his wand out in anticipation. Nothing but darkness encompassed a small hallway that reeked even more of foul sewer water.

"Okay. We'll use the cloak to avoid being seen. Stay close and don't make any sudden movements alright? Look out for any signs of trouble or things out of the ordinary."

Hermione nodded her head, embracing the deep abyss. They both uttered Lumos and advanced out the door under the cloak. The lack of light that consumed the room, was now more etched in charcoal, save for the small glow at the end of their wands. The once vibrant hues of the world were no more than a vivid dream as they treaded along the influence of darkness.


Gateways, Asylum – Deadside

The vivid blue light dwindled from Luke's teddy bear as Mike and Ron arrived back to the Asylum's front gateway. They were against their backsides, shadow gun and wand aimed straight in front of them awaiting more of the beasts from the dungeons to be nearby. After Hermione's silver otter had disappeared, Ron had some kind of newly discovered confidence in himself. It was as if his doubts about her safety were gone and he could focus on the task at hand with a clear mind.

He had agreed with Mike's plan without hesitation and thought of a way to cover their ends in case company awaited them. The fact of the matter was that the two had been seen down within the torture chambers and figured more security would be placed by the front gates. However, when they landed they found themselves alone with no guards in sight.

The two kept their backs together, turning in sync in a circle to cover their surroundings. "Keep your wand up. Survey the area by the courtyard searchlights and on both sides of the entrance. I'll cover you," ordered Mike, motioning Ron with his hand, similar to how detectives did during a crime inspection.

Ron nodded and did as he was told, scanning his periphery around the empty stone courtyard, lit up brightly by the shifting searchlights. He looked up to the small passageway where they had first come from and the small areas on both sides of the main entrance. He also shifted his gaze upward to the large windows of the tower, but no signs of lurking beasts were there. It was empty, save for the repeated motion of the searchlights and the never-ending Deadside chill in the sky.

"It's clear. We're alone."

Mike acknowledged him and lowered his gun, but he kept vigilant. He thought it didn't make sense why no guards were placed outside despite being seen in the dungeons below. He tilted his head as he rubbed his chin thinking briefly about the situation. Without another thought, he acted quickly and took out the gauntlet key they had recovered.

"Let's hope this works," Mike said with a deep breath.

Ron came back to his side and stood guard, snatching a glimpse every few seconds at Mike as he was inserting the key into the rectangular stand by the door. With a quick turn of the key to the right, a blue symbol of a pyramid appeared on the stand's small circular display. Mike turned back to face Ron, who gulped in anticipation. The Shadow Man touched his palm on the blue pyramid symbol, causing the front door to open its sliding doors in a flash.

"Bloody hell it worked…" uttered Ron in amazement.

Mike gave him a small smile, which soon faltered at hearing a familiar sound within the door. It was the same sound of slaughtered pigs squealing in pain, thudding thunderously fast. The two men peered inside and saw a tall stone walled room lit by torches on either side, empty, save for another door on the opposite side. A red-carpet walkway could be seen leading to the opposite door, except it was filthy and stained with dark maroon colored blood.

They noted the room to be slightly shaking as if a stampede was incoming. "Shit! It's those things again! They must know we're here! Get ready!" commanded Mike as he held his gun pointed at the door.

Ron felt a lump of bile in his throat as his heart pounded, holding his wand tightly out in front of him, trying not to twitch. Don't freeze. Don't freeze.

Not a second longer the same roaring beast they met from before came crashing through the opposite door from where they stood. It was just one this time, albeit much taller and tenacious than the two they faced in the torture chambers. The creature hit both hooks from its knuckles together, producing a sharp clang and with another loud squeal, hurdled its enormous body hurriedly through the room and straight to them.

Mike let off multiple blasts from his shadow gun, causing the aura blue strikes to hit the beast square on its body without harm. Ron launched several curses as well, but it was useless. The beast continued charging forth swinging its massive hooks out in front of it, unfazed by their feeble attacks.

"That kind of magic won't work Weasley!"

"Yeah, well it's not like your little gun is doing anything either!"

The duo immediately retreated from the door and came back out to the courtyard, still avoiding the searchlights from seeing them. The savage beast rushed out from the front door, growling as it to swung its large clasps vigorously.

"Petrificus TotalusImpedimentaImmobulus!" shouted Ron, accompanying the blows that came out of Mike's shadow gun. But he stared in horror as none of his spells worked, enabling the beast to finally reach them. It let off several harsh grunts and squeals as it whirled its hooks with such ferocity, nearly decapitating Ron.

"Look out ginger!" shouted Mike as he dove away from the beast, rolling onto the stone floor.

Ron did the same just in time. He quickly picked himself up as the beast swung towards the floor, thirsty for blood and the kill. Ron briskly avoided the swings as he sprinted back to the front door, being chased by the large monster behind.

"StupefyReducto!" he bellowed, aiming backwards. But the spells continued to ricochet from the brute's body, not even giving it so much of a tickle. "Nothing's working!"

Mike saw Ron struggle while on the ground and focused his power and channeled it through his shadow gun, firing bigger concentrated blasts. This time the beams encircled the beast's core, hitting it on the head, back and chest. Though, this too proved futile as Mike saw a back-hook swing strike Ron directly on his back.

Before Ron could reach the door, he felt a razor-sharp sensation on his back, causing him to plummet directly next to the trap door on the floor. "Arrghh! Fuck!" he howled in agony, touching his backside where he had been struck. He turned quickly and noticed the brute was no longer running, now edging calmly to him with such blood lust and craving.

As it was about to swing one last hook to Ron's head, Mike quickly jumped on it from behind, holding its head in a chokehold with both arms around its neck. The beast squealed loudly again, squirming and flinging its arms violently, trying to get rid of Mike's hold. "Hurry! Think of something! I can't…hold on…forever!"

Ron found himself gasping for air, crawling away from the monster roaring in irritation. Adrenaline flowed through his veins as he saw the beast nearly strike a blow to Mike's head as he held on for dear life. Sweat poured from Ron's temples as he was still nursing the wound on his back. Something then caught his attention. He moved his gaze from the twisted display of the beast and looked down at the trap door. He touched a drip of sweat from his temple and looked at it, then back at the door until a thought came to his mind.

"Lava! Fucking brilliant!" He looked back to Mike, who remained struggling and knew he couldn't hold on much longer. "Mike! Bring it here! I have a plan!" he screeched, still grumbling in pain.

"Easier…said…than…done! Shit!" yelled Mike as the beast finally swung him away, sending him flying to the wall by the front door. He hit his backside on it, landing with a hard thud. The monster squealed once more, clanging its hooks together in rage before charging at Mike, who was now on all fours and could only look up and cover his head in apprehension.

Ron quickly opened the trap door and pointed his wand above the beast. "Aqua Eructo!" Suddenly a jet of clear water emerged from his wand and did a U-turn motion, hitting the monster with such ferocity that it knocked it off its feet. It squealed in surprise, still swinging its hooks helplessly as it was pushed by the fierce speed of the water into the depths of the trap door. Ron quickly stood, commanding the water to push it straight into the lava, attaining loud roars from the beast as it drowned desperately.

With one last squeal, it sunk into nothingness as the last bit of its hook was consumed by the flames. The beast was slain, letting Ron drop to his knees and close the door, panting for air. Mike's heart palpitated as he too heaved. The two men looked at each other for a brief moment and fell onto their backs in relief, though Ron cried out in pain as he momentarily forgot about his wound.

"You did it…" muttered Mike as he gazed up at the dark green sky, looking for the absent stars.

"We did it," reported Ron who now had his eyes closed and attempted to re-focus on Hermione's words. He pictured her lips, curls and soft deep earthy brown eyes after torrential rains. He saw them glisten like an old copper penny examined next to warm flames licking the safety glass doors of a fireplace. For a brief moment he was at home, until he was rustled up by Mike's harsh shoves.

"Get up! Look there. That thing busted through that door inside. Any more could come out so get off your ass!"

Ron sighed, but quickly stood, still in pain from the blow he received. He peered back inside the front entrance, indeed surprised to only find one monster come out for them. The two quickly moved to the side of the entrance, letting the front sliding doors close shut. Mike saw Ron still holding onto the right side of his upper back where he'd been struck and moved closer to him for a better look.

"Take off your robes and shirt, let me see how bad it is."

Ron was hesitant at first, but after seeing Mike's stern look he did as he was told, struggling to remove his shirt. After a few attempts he was able to lift up his top off, showing Mike the deep puncture wound he sustained.

"Shit…" mentioned Mike as he observed the intensity of the damage he sustained.

"Is it that bad?" asked Ron, howling in pain at Mike's sudden touch.

"Well just be happy it wasn't your head. Here, give me your wand."

Ron retained a look of both anguish and misery as he clutched his backside, hoping the pain would subside. He was hesitant at first, but soon handed the wand to him.

Mike shut his eyes, touched the mask on his chest with his left hand and gave the wand a swirl with his right. An aura blue light appeared from the wand and made contact with Ron's wound, causing him to shriek in pain once more. After a few seconds the light diminished and the puncture gash became cauterized, only leaving behind a scar. The agony had faded to a dull throb, then dissipated, like fog off a lake.

"That should do it. C'mon. We gotta keep going."

"Blimey that's loads better," said Ron relieved, touching his backside carefully.

He was about to head for the front door again until he was stopped by Mike. "Hey, sorry for being so useless with that thing. If I had any doubts left about you, well, they're for sure gone now," he mumbled in his raspy tone.

Ron gave him his famous lopsided grin and touched the back of his head sheepishly. "Don't get all sentimental now, Shadow Man."

Mike snickered and the two continued through the front entrance. They were concerned about going into the room where the beast had come out of, but there was no other way. Ron's hint of fear was also more concealed. Mike noticed his Gryffindor courage and determination to be more profound than before. He knew Hermione's patronus and words had an encouraging effect on him, but still had some suspicion about how the patronus was able to traverse to Deadside. He shook away those thoughts for the time being.

They moved along the red carpet within the tall empty room and straight for the next entrance. "What are we gonna do if we see more of those things?" inquired Ron.

Mike shook his head. "No idea. All I know is that I need more Dark Souls to boost my strength. I was next to useless back there. I know level three will be different. I can feel it."

The two men arrived at the broken doors, leading into another tall circular room with a second floor, unreachable as no stairs or walkway could be seen. Upon looking up at the overpass, Mike immediately pulled Ron into the room and pushed him against the wall, forcing him to hug it as he held a finger up to his lips.

Ron was about to protest when he looked up and noticed multiple beasts akin the behemoth they faced not five minutes ago keeping guard on the second floor. These had the same appearance as the brute they faced by the entrance, but instead of possessing hooks out of their knuckles, they held what appeared to be sniper rifles.

Mike saw another passageway entrance opposite to them and headed for it, hugging the wall closely as to not be seen by the beasts above. The overpass apparently blocked the beasts' view, as not a sound was heard. Mike motioned for Ron to follow him, who faltered behind as he was too busy observing the monsters in horror above. Quietly, they reached the entrance to the passageway, which ran in two directions. Mike opted to go right and peeked through before noting it was clear.

"I don't understand. Didn't they see that fucking thing blast through those doors? I mean it's fucking wide open, who can't see that? We should've been caught," whispered Ron as they walked down the corridor.

"They don't seem very bright. Or maybe…someone wants us here," replied Mike bluntly.

After walking some distance down, the corridor finally led them into a small room that had the appearance of an old nuclear power plant's control room. There were multiple switches and gauges on either side of the rooms and pipes running across the ceiling. A Govi could be seen at the right-hand side corner of it, gaining the attention from Mike.

"Hey, another one! Do you think this is their control room?" asked Ron.

"No. It's much too small to be controlling the entire tower. Let's get this Dark Soul and keep going."

"Hey wait!" exclaimed Ron as he pulled on Mike's shoulder, before he had a chance to open fire with his gun.

"What is it now?" retorted Mike in frustration.

"Remember the torture chambers? Your little show down there is what set those buggers off! At least let me quiet the fucking room first!"

Mike pulled his shoulder away and crossed his arms. "Fine. Do it quickly."

Waving his wand forth, Ron uttered a quick Muffliato and formed a shield charm at the entrance with caution, before giving the okay to Mike. With a single blow from his gun, the Govi shattered into pieces, letting the Dark Soul hover to the center of the room with its loud screech of maniacal voices. Ron covered his ears as he saw Mike extend his palm and immersing himself with it.

But this time, the loud shrieks of terror were more sharp and high pitched, similar to how it occurred with his shadow power level two. The souls' hues hit Mike repeatedly on the Mask of Shadows, channeling within him, burning him to a crisp, and causing intense pain. Mike fumed and yelped, trembling arms extended to his sides as his back arched.

Ron moved his hand to cover his face at the intimidating display, unable to help once more. After a few seconds of agonizing screaming, Mike came back down on all fours, touching his body and shaking relentlessly after surely increasing his shadow powers to level three. He looked up to Ron who saw his eyes shine brighter than ever. The red head went over to help him up, much to Mike's fury. He pushed him back and helped his own self up, still leaning for support on the nearby wall.

"Hey, uhh…you alright?" asked Ron nervously.

"Never felt better," replied Mike, now smiling devilishly. He lifted his gun into the air, channeling his power into it, which produced an aura orb at the end of it. It hissed of violence and torment, pitch modified to a new piercing sound, much sinister than the train horn it paralleled from when Ron first heard it.

"Bloody hell, even your gun sounds different. How many is that?"

"Seven souls. Level three. Yes. I feel…so much more. Move aside," commanded Mike as he waved his gun sideways.

Ron was confused at what he meant when his gun was suddenly pointed up at him. He quickly moved aside as Mike fired the newly loud blow of blue aura, easily piercing through the shield charm. The beam rebounded along the walls of the corridor, surmounting the chilling ambience with such vigor as loud squeals could be heard from beyond.

"Stupid prat! Now you've done it!"

"I think we'll have no trouble with those things now," said Mike while admiring his gun and newfound powers. "Let's head down to the other side of the passageway, see where it leads to."

But instead of walking through the corridor Mike ran, leaving Ron behind confused and a bit annoyed at his assertiveness. "Bloody hell here we go." Ron chased after him and it wasn't long before they passed the entryway that led to the front entrance. Though, they weren't chased, which he thought was strange.

They continued running until they reached a similar engineering room to the one they were at before, except they weren't alone this time. Two of the same hulking creatures turned at their presence squealing loudly as the sound split Ron's ears.

Without warning the beasts charged for the duo, causing Ron to stutter in anticipation. But not Mike. This time he was ready. Channeling his new strength, he emptied his gun with several multi-aura blast orbs targeted at them. Unlike before, the hits stopped the barbaric demons in their tracks, making them stammer where they stood. They tried to continue sprinting with ferocious swings of their hooks, but with each blast they were hit with, they continued stumbling backward in pain, letting off louder squeals than before.

"It's working!" exclaimed Ron as he saw Mike continue the blows until the beasts finally faltered to their knees, grabbing their torso in suffering. Bright blue aura light arose from their bodies, similar to how the wailers and slashes had done at the Marrow Gates, indicating an explosion to come. With one last cry the beasts burst into nothingness, two empty red lights left in their presence. They quickly rose up past the ceiling and away from the men.

Ron looked at Mike in awe that such a difference was made from changing from level two to three. But Mike didn't return his smile. He pushed Ron quickly aside, bumping him toward the wall just in time to avoid being hit by a shot from behind.

Mike had taken notice of the monster at their rear and began shooting once more, letting the aura beams rip with fierce perforation. The brute that held the rifle, similar to the ones by the second floor within the circular room was brought to its knees as the rifle fell to its side. They were not as quick or mobile as the ones with hooks, but Mike didn't care. With one last blow he caused it to burst where it was. The red light it left behind flew up quickly away from them just as the other had done.

"Shit…thanks for that," gasped Ron, clutching his chest and wiping the sweat from his forehead.

"Always mind your surroundings. Let's go, there's another corridor from here."

Ron dusted himself off and followed suit. The passage that was adjacent to the engineering room had walls that were yellow orange in color, similar to the ones he had seen down past the room with the pyramid symbol. He observed them carefully. "Hey you don't think this'll lead us down to that room from before do you?"

"Let's hope so," replied Mike as he urged him quickly down the corridor.

Going past several turns that went downward, they indeed found themselves in the room they were talking about. Before going out into it, both men hugged each side of the passageway, keeping a lookout for more creatures. They saw the area was clear and both men came out behind the trolley by its platform.

Ron observed it carefully. It was red, rusty, and only a cart size long. Two small windows could be seen on its side and a sliding metal door next to them. Below the platform and the trolley showed nothing but lava flowing through. It was a long way down from where they stood. He then looked over to the tunnel the trolley presumably went through and had a better look at the rails on the ceiling connected to it.

A loud shriek startled him from behind and noticed Mike had blown the Govi nearby to shreds, possessing Dark Soul number eight into his body. Ron saw him shaking violently on the floor when he heard several growls coming from the other side of the trolley. He sidestepped to get a look to the door across by the torture chambers and through the small window noticed a crowd of large beasts pounding on the door.

"Shit! Mike, we gotta go! Like now!"

Mike looked up to Ron, who was now trying to help him up after recovering. He moved an arm over his neck and together they moved toward the trolley. Ron heard a loud bang and the growls of the creature come much louder and faster than before. Shit. They broke through, he thought as they got onto the platform. The trolley door suddenly slid open and the two men entered swiftly. Inside, the trolley looked well furnished, full of red velvet furniture and a control console on the end of it. Ron laid Mike down on a couch and headed to the control panel, looking for some way to start it.

"C'mon you bloody bugger! Start!" he cursed while pounding his fists on the buttons. He looked outside the window and noticed one of the beasts was holding its rifle aimed to him. Ducking down quickly, Ron was barely missed by the shot and accidentally grazed a handle on the way down to the floor. A loud start sound of an engine was heard and with a rusty screech of a train whistle, the trolley cart began moving away slowly into the tunnel.

Ron held his body in a ball keeping cover on the floor at hearing ricocheted bullets outside. The sudden movement of the trolley spooked him as he held his position. Mike was alarmed as well, grabbing onto the couch, trying not to fall over. He soon recuperated and looked at the red head with amusement as the trolley gained speed away from the beasts' flying bullets.

"I guess luck is on our side," he said, resting his head back among the couch.

Ron sat up as they sped away in the trolley and grabbed his face in relief, blood falling to his feet. "Yeah but for how much longer?" He brought himself up and sat on the couch opposite to Mike. He took a deep breath, and laid his head back, finally getting a chance to rest.

"Where is this thing taking us anyway?"

"Don't know. I guess we'll find out."


August 27, 2000 (6:43 pm)

Undisclosed Location – London, England

The hallway dressed in black gave off an unnerving feeling wrapped around Harry's already chilled body. The odor of stale urine and excrement curled from underneath as he and Hermione walked along the narrow path. Below them they could sense still water, gloomy, green and obscure. The occasional crawling of rats brought them out of their reverie, causing them to look desperately for the source of the sound out of utter fear.

They were walking alongside steel flooring that hugged the right side of the wall. To their left were rails preventing them from going overboard to the disgusting water beneath. Pipes of different sizes continued along the walls and ceiling. Harry was briefly reminded of the Chamber of Secrets by its display.

Hermione didn't dare make a sound to avoid making herself seem suspicious again. She just stared at Harry's backside with an evil leer through her primitive drive. She was nothing more than a visionary with a dream. A heinous dream to successfully uphold her sick ploy at luring Harry away for her new master. She had a plan and was letting things unfold for the time being.

Not a word was uttered for the first few minutes as the two strolled along slowly, avoiding stepping over each other's feet to prevent falling and making unnecessary noise. With Harry leading the way Hermione was able to scan the area where Jack the Ripper had made his hideout. She knew he was around. Her striking new power heightened her senses, but it was almost as if the Dark Souls could perceive each other when near.

They finally came to a three-way tunnel pathway, making Harry turn to face her as soon as he saw the area was clear. "Well, I sort of expected this. What do you think?" he asked, looking again to her with suspicion.

Hermione caught his look and knew full well he was not going to go ahead with splitting up. She thought of simply choosing a path and sticking with it.

"Why don't we stay right? And stick together, of course."

Harry appeared slightly surprised at her words and thought for a second, looking back to observe the three tunnels. Apparition had been on his mind to get Hermione out of there since it was he and Ron's investigation. However, this end of the world rubbish included her, that much he understood. He knew his best friend was stubborn and determined to see this through, with absolutely no way in retreating now. His cynicism was still battling within his mind about her behavior. No sign of Jack the Ripper was found thus far and so he decided to adhere to her suggestion and follow the tunnel on the right.

Harry had so many more questions to ask Hermione, but knew the answer to them already. The redundant 'I don't knows,' playing over and over like a broken record player. He was glad she was safe, but still had an issue with how she got to the sewers in the first place. And she seemed totally unfazed by it the moment he dropped in the same room as her. There was still something crucial that he was missing, but merely opted to also let things unfold.

As he continued surveying the area, still under the cloak, more and more doubts about their exact whereabouts were beginning to bother him. He knew the obvious about being in the sewers, but where exactly was his frustration. He stopped in his tracks, forcing Hermione to bump into his backside.

"Ow! Harry!" she hissed, rubbing her forehead.

"Err sorry. But I should've done this earlier," he said while waving his wand in a circle.

"What are you doing?" she asked, looking curiously.

A small flashing map of London was formed in front of them and Harry gave it two taps. A red blinking dot showed up swiftly and the map zoomed in like a GPS. Harry and Hermione looked on intently where it pointed to which read, 'TFL Down Street: Churchill's Secret Station, London.'

Harry looked up to Hermione with a puzzled look, and noticed she too had a bewildered expression on her face. His mouth was pursed, but slightly open and loose. He blinked in lost thought, letting the map vanish without a trace.

"This place is off limits Hermione. Muggles aren't even allowed here. It's been closed down for years," he said with a rub of his chin.

"I know. Mum and dad used to tell me about this place." Hermione made a perplexed look, unsure why her thoughts suddenly went to her parents. She shook her head and looked at him intently. "But it makes sense, doesn't it?"

Harry returned her confused expression. "How so?"

"Well…think about it. A vile man hunting innocent muggles around London, especially around underground stations at late/early morning times. Why does it seem so fitting that he brings us here?"

Harry stared at her, observing the small details in her face, similar to when he conducted interrogations with Ron. He sensed a familiar feeling, of logic and the piecing of puzzles together. It was as if for a brief moment his best friend was back. "I guess you're right. I feel much better now knowing where we are. You know, just in case things go south."

Hermione nodded in understanding.

"Right, c'mon then."

The tunnel they were in eventually made a curved right turn, with more sounds of rats crawling below. Hermione casually looked around and her attention was caught by a seemingly concealed door to their right. She stopped, which brought her out of the invisibility cloak. Harry noticed this and immediately turned around. He saw her go up to the wall, and pointed his wand to flash the light in that direction.

"Another door?" he asked.

Hermione nodded and brushed away some of the dust and dirt that had collected along it. She heard Harry whisper some words in either direction of the tunnel while waving his wand which Hermione believed to be protective enchantments. Once he was finished he rejoined her as she was about to turn the knob.

With a look behind to him and obtaining his consent, she opened it slowly, wand aimed in front of her. She pushed the door open slowly and saw stairs leading up to another similar door above. They entered the small space carefully, letting the door behind them shut close without a sound. Together they ascended the steps without a word, complete silence growing deeper, save for their own steady rhythms. It was as if nature conspired to keep them quiet in the dark.

The silence caressed Hermione's skin like a cool summer breeze, smoothing her tainted soul, taking away her jagged edges. They stepped closer and closer, increasing the tension that had built. She reached the top most stair and Harry remained on the second to give her room. He gulped, but nodded to her, non-verbally calling for her to open it.

She edged her shaking hand to it, gradually turned the knob and pushed it wide open. Harry was ready to shout a curse, but noticed it was unnecessary after scanning the empty room. He couldn't believe his eyes as they were drawn to the hundreds of pieces of parchment and newspaper articles stuck onto the walls and floor.

Hermione too looked in awe at the walls of the room upon entering. All four were plastered by old parchment and newspaper clippings. The room was filthy, unkempt, and appeared to have a hint of a mad scientist's lair. A single wooden table and chair were placed in the middle of the room, lit only by a small gas lamp. But the most intimidating and astonishing feature of the room was the top half corpse body that was hung on the wall opposite to them.

Harry's chest pounded at seeing the frightening sight. It was a dried up old cachectic body without eyes, teeth, tongue or organs. Its torso was split open and implanted within was a strange looking mechanical device. The corpse had its skull exposed, its arms wide open, pulled and held together by wires on its backside that went through the walls of the room.

Harry saw Hermione about to approach it through the corner of his eye when he put his arm up, indicating for her to wait. He pulled out his wand, gave it a flick and uttered, "HomenumRevelio."

But nothing happened.

Hermione was about to walk forth again, when Harry maintained his arm up and shook his head at her. She was about to protest when she saw him flick his wand again. "Specialis Revelio," he muttered. Hermione recognized this spell. It detected hidden secrets or magical properties. But just as before the room remained intact and nothing happened.

"Are you quite done?" Hermione hissed with a raise of an eyebrow.

Harry nodded and stepped forth to get a better look at the corpse. She did the same and shined the light at the end of her wand to observe it better. Her interest took her to the mechanical device across the hole in its chest. It was rectangular in shape, steel plated and with a gap in its mid region. Four clamps on either side appearing much like rib bones clipped it together with the corpse.

Harry observed it as well, unsure what to make of the strange device. He looked around the pieces of parchment with sketches, and knew this had to be the killer's hideout. Robards would have a field day if he ever saw this room.

"This man is cruel and barbaric," fumed Hermione, once again feigning emotion to appear like Harry's best friend. He turned and saw her look at the corpse, now with ire and resentment. She could not bear to look at it any longer and turned to face the floor at the scattered newspaper clippings.

Harry went over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder, offering a smile. "You're right. We'll get him. Whatever it takes. He's gotta answer for what he's done."

Hermione returned his smile and walked away to the right wall to have a look at the writings on the parchment. They didn't make much sense to her. She saw structural plans were assorted with architectural drawings, similar to blueprints, and hundreds of other newspaper clippings were on the way of them. She approached one of a woman with a title that read, 'London Prostitute Brutally Murdered.' Next to it appeared another that read, 'Whitechapel Murders.' Frowning as she read the titles, she continued searching near those articles and found another titled, 'Whitehall Mystery' and a 'Dear Boss Letter' attached by it. Taking interest in the Dear Boss Letter, Hermione picked it off from the wall and began reading it.

Harry was doing his own observation of the room and found the drawings on the wall to be somehow familiar. He could see the same pyramid symbol with the eye in its core; the same that was scrawled at Whitechapel station. He also saw several other symbols repeatedly spaced out and quickly recognized them from the muggle files.

It had been the symbols of the five killers. There was one of a small stick figured lizard, another resembling a lightning bolt, one of crossed spears, one that had what appeared to be the outline of a nail, and lastly a symbol of a sword facing down with a wide blade. Harry observed them carefully, looking for clues, but was alerted as he heard Hermione speak behind him. He turned and saw her hold a note in her hand. She began reading aloud.

"Dear Boss,

I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they won't fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shan't quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now? I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I can't use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the lady's ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn't you. Surely this will bring me eternal life. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife's so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck.

Yours truly,

Jack the Ripper

Don't mind me giving the trade name

PS: Wasn't good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands; curse it. No luck yet. They say I'm a doctor now. ha ha.

Hermione looked up at Harry in disgust after reading Jack's sick and distorted letter. Harry could only shake his head in fury and turned back to observe the symbols. Hermione let the letter fall to the floor and went over to the wooden table. She noticed there was a single small cabinet beneath it and curiously opened it. She was surprised to find something inside.

"Hey Harry, come and have a look at this."

He was pulled away again from his probe of the drawings and studied the item Hermione had pulled out. "A book?" he asked confusedly.

Hermione opened it and turned to the first page. She stared in shock at seeing the words written. "It's not just any book Harry…"

He moved closer for a better look and read the inscription.

"Being the Journal of

John G. Peirce

Otherwise known as

Jack the Ripper"

The two looked at each other in disbelief, sparks firing in their brains, desperately trying to connect the dots and instead just causing a short circuit. Words left them. As if stuck underwater, everything was slow and warbled. The abyss had come for them, Hermione thought. What they failed to notice was the man behind the nearly enclosed door they had entered through, eavesdropping on them with a wicked smile and a twinkle in his eye.

 

 

Chapter Text

Cathedral of Pain, Asylum – Deadside

It was mere minutes before the trolley finally came to a stop. Mike and Ron were surprised at the sudden stop and stood, weapons in hand. Ron peeked out through the window and not surprisingly noted the trolley came to another dark area. He saw four huge metal pipes coming out from the walls that went through the ceiling, letting off a bit of steam every few seconds. The distance beyond the pipes was pitch black and not able to be seen.

The walls were brick layered, but not murky green like in the gateways and not certainly bloody like in the torture chambers. They were red, and almost new, as if treated with the uttermost care. The stone flooring was the same, without as much as a stain. Ron saw the platform contain rails around it and noticed the tall tunnel they had come out of had nothing but lava several yards below.

"See anything out there?" questioned Mike in his deep raspy tone.

Ron shook his head and let Mike have a look. He paced around the trolley, thinking about what Jaunty had said about looking for corpses. They'd only seen them down in the torture chambers, but not near the gateways of the main entrance. He thought the snake's advice was ridiculous if he was being honest. But perhaps he didn't quite understand the concept of a schism, or using a corpse to bridge both worlds.

These corpses will be special in some way – in a special place. That same phrase Jaunty had said played repeatedly in Ron's mind as he tried to grasp what special place could he be talking about within the Asylum.

"I don't see any of those things out there. There's a door at the far end and an entryway to another path on the right. I say we go check it out first."

Ron narrowed his eyes and looked at Mike in a perplexed manner. "How is that you can see that far? It's bloody dark out."

Mike snickered. "I'm surprised you haven't noticed by now."

"Noticed what?"

"My powers. Aside from channeling the dark energy through my gun of course."

Ron frowned as his mind traveled back to when he first encountered Mike with Harry. He remembered clearly. He had chased him across the rooftops and in front of muggles after finding him in his home. None of his spells had worked on him then. He was quick and packed quite the punch too, he remembered. Ron rubbed his chin and looked upward at the trolley's ceiling in deep thought about Mike's abilities.

"Apart from being an arse, I'd say nearly invincible. Only nearly since that ogre thing tossed you around like a ragged doll back there. But I mean, you can't die, right? So yeah, I am curious now that you mention it."

Mike sat back down on the couch, not in a hurry to leave the trolley. "No. I can't. Because of this," he said pointing at the Mask of Shadows implanted on his chest. "It gives me paranormal strength, endurance, agility, enhanced reflexes, night vision, regenerative healing, and depleted fear. So yeah, nearly invincible."

Ron raised his eyebrows in surprise, now understanding why none of his spells had worked. "So then, let me get this straight. If you 'die' in Deadside, what happens?"

"I wouldn't know. I've never 'died' in Deadside as technically we're already down under. It's only ever happened in Liveside."

"So if you die in Liveside, you're transported back here?"

"Bingo. And here I thought you were a slow learner."

"Oh sod off!"

Mike snickered again as he crossed his legs, laid back and rested his head among the couch, closing his glowing eyes. Ron observed him and then back out the window out of fear of being noticed by any oncoming beasts within the area. The trolley had been loud and its whistle had sounded off, but no guards came to it. Again, another feature that he thought was strange. It was as if they were being welcomed.

"Well uhh, are we going?"

Mike sat up straight and stretched his arms out as if getting ready for a workout. "Fine let's go."

Ron sighed nervously and opened the sliding door, exiting the trolley carefully with his wand out. As he made his way onto the platform, he looked behind him at the rails preventing the huge drop to the lava below. He saw the tunnel where they had traveled through and around the dark area. He noticed the air was less thin than before. He studied the walls and huge pipes above, alarmed at the steam pouring out intermittently.

Mike was close behind, as if ready for the oncoming charge of the beasts. He saw Ron twirl his wand around his own body and then to himself while chanting something under his breath. Mike felt a strange sensation hit him and upon looking down at his body, or rather, what had been his body, for it didn't look anything like his anymore. It took the same color and texture as the area they were in, now appearing like human chameleons.

"Disillusionment charm. Just in case, you know?"

Mike nodded. "Okay, I'll lead the way since you're blind as shit and can't see in the dark," he said as he took point.

Ron gave him a stern look, but nodded and proceeded to stick close to him as nothing but black fog could be seen. Ron didn't want to make a light source just yet until the area was secure. They made their way into the opening on the right wall and upon entering it saw that it led to a beautifully designed corridor. The walls were made of purple/blue ceramic, developed with unique Greek designs on them. There were small blue flames within gas lamps above that made the corridor light up glamorously.

Ron was astonished for a bit, before being pulled by Mike to continue on, eventually leading up to some stairs. As they reached the top, the area was once again pitch black, leaving only the imagination to be seen.

"It's clear up here," said Mike. "Don't' worry, I can see. Make some light if you'd like."

Ron uttered Lumos and saw that they had taken the stairs up to a small room that looked like a dusty old attic. The floor was made of hardwood and walls were filthy, much different than the corridor down below. His attention was caught by an object a few feet away. He moved closer to have a better look.

Upon shining the light at it, he noticed the object was an old vintage motion picture camera. Hermione had mentioned these before to him. There were several times when she would take him to the cinemas to catch a movie and told him these were the objects that made them. His mind wandered back to his girlfriend momentarily as he observed the camera. For a moment, he was lost in a memory when she took him to see a peculiar movie about flying spaceships and glowing sword fights. He remembered her mess of curls on the crook of his shoulder and the fragrance of her perfume as they sat together, watching The Phantom Menace.

Thinking deeper still about the details of the memory, he was startled to have pushed a button that turned the camera on. It shot a beam of bright light and lit up a large room by a screen on the opposite end. The sound caught Mike's attention who quickly went over to Ron and saw the screen that had lit up.

Ron was staggered to find that they were standing on an abandoned balcony, overlooking a large room that resembled an old theater. The walls were the same beautiful ceramic type with Greek designs. A few rows of benches could be seen down below, and with the white screen brightening up the room.

The two men were caught off guard by the sudden sound of running film, and a film leader countdown began moving onscreen. Ron held up his wand, as did Mike with his gun, surveying the area for any beasts. No squealing sounds were heard, except the countdown, which indicated they were in the clear for now. As the number hit the number two, the screen went black for a brief moment, before demonstrating a disturbing display.

The screen had divided into three sections. The top half of the screen showed the image of an upper torso of what appeared to be a dried up old cachectic corpse. Its skull was exposed, and its teeth, eyes, organs and tongue were all removed. A rectangular device was implanted on the chest/abdomen area, as if opening the torso wide open. It was also labeled, as the head, mechanical device, arms, spinal cord, and torso gap all had a line connected to curved writing, which was unable to be read. Ron stared horror-struck at the image while Mike furrowed his eyes and had a hooked expression.

The lower half of the screen showed four images split in half. The one on the left had the artist's impression photo of Jack the Ripper and next to it was the same cachectic corpse as above. The image on the right showed the corpse again and next to it a strange worm-like creature. Arrows were pointed going from right to left, beginning with the worm and ending with the picture of Jack. Of interest was the background color of each of the lower half images. The right image had a black background while the left was white.

Ron was frozen in his place, mouth hung with lips slightly parted in stunned surprise. His eyes were as wide as they could stretch, impossible to stray away from the screen. Mike was not as surprised, but his nostrils were flaring and blood drained from his unblinking face as his brain was desperately scrambling to make sense of it all.

It felt like an eternity before Ron finally spoke. "That's it…isn't it?" he asked, finally looking over to Mike's ebony figure.

Ron saw that he finally blinked, but was speechless for a few more seconds, studying the three images presented before them. "Yeah…it is," Mike uttered, knowing all too well that they had found the manner in which the five killers could bridge between worlds.

"You understand, right? That worm thing on the right represents the Dark Soul, just like in the prophecy cards. And that skull thing there must be the corpses Jaunty was talking about. The right lower picture is black, which I assume represents Deadside. The left is white, like in Liveside. Remember what Jaunty said?"

Ron continued staring at the screen, but with a narrowed gaze, as if trying to recall the serpent's words. "You trap two souls and keep them in a state of flux between the worlds – one in Deadside, the other in Liveside. Neither can cross over from one plane of existence to the next, nor pass on beyond. Then a schism, or bridge is formed between the worlds."

Mike finally turned to face him. "Exactly. Goddammit he was right! There must be one corpse here and one in Liveside, for each of the five. That's the link. That's how these assholes plan to bring their demon army into the wizarding world and mine. Jaunty…that sonofabitch!"

"Blimey…"

"So five corpses then. We need to find five corpses in a special place, but where the fuck do we even start? These things could be anywhere. And heavily fucking guarded!" he said while covering his face with his hands in frustration.

"Your guess is good as mine, honestly," said Ron exhaustively. He came to terms knowing their search was going to be a long one considering these corpses could be anywhere.

"Let's get out of here. We got what we need. Let's go back through the door I saw."

Ron nodded and clicked the camera off and together with Mike went back down the stairs leading to the corridor until they were back at the entryway. Pipes could still be heard steaming and Mike noticed no beasts had come by the area as of yet. The two men stepped quickly and made their way inside the sliding doors across from the trolley. It led them to a short corridor with another door at the end of it. Mike looked at his body once more and saw that the disillusionment charm had worn off. He and Ron were normal again.

Before Ron was able to head for the next door, Mike pulled him from the back of his robes. "Wait. Look at this," he said, pointing at small writing on the wall written in blood.

Ron looked at it, which read, 'The Cathedral of Pain, For the Armies of My Master Led By The Five.' He made a bewildered look at Mike. "What the hell does that mean?"

"Don't know. Don't care. Keep your guard up. There's no knowing when those things will show up again."

Mike took point again and opened the sliding doors ahead. Ron followed suit and upon exiting the door was welcomed by a frightful sight. They had entered upon a room resembling the inside of a small church surrounded by multiple beasts armed with rifles. Although, there were no benches, altar, or windows. Instead, the floors were made of limestone tile, walls were of fine stone lit up by torch stands, and a large pit was on the floor of the center of the room that went several hundred feet below.

The beasts were encircled around it. At hearing the door slam shut behind them, the beasts all turned swiftly and growled frantically. There was so much to take in. Mike had a quick look around and became aware of four passageways, two on either sides of the room and another door past some stairs across from them. What he wasn't prepared to see were the symbols of the five killers above each passageway, almost indicating to him of their slumber. He also looked down at his pocket and saw the teddy bear had been glowing.

Ron didn't seem to notice as he was too busy finding fear once more from the beasts' blood lust. The fear sat on him like a pillow over his mouth and nose. Enough air got by, allowing his body to keep functioning, but it was crippling all the same. With another roaring squeal, the hulking beasts brought up their rifles and emptied their clips at the two men.

"Shit!" yelled Mike, as he moved his arms over himself in cover.

"Protego Maxima!" exclaimed Ron, creating an enhanced shield charm just in time, leaving them unscathed.

Mike looked up and saw the red head holding up well with the shield charm. "Quick thinking!"

"Hurry! Blast those things! This won't last long!"

Mike didn't have to be told twice as he let off aura beams rip from his shadow gun from around the shield charm. Yet, even louder growling could be heard as more monsters began coming out of all four passageways and from the room across. Their violent screams of barbarity came through to the savage crowd piling around them.

"Shit! There's too many of them!"

"Mike watch out!" proclaimed Ron as the duo began getting mounted by the surrounding beasts. Ron's shield charm was breaking little by little with every shot and hook swipe that it took. He held his head between concentration and terror, attempting with all his might to prevent the shield from breaking and leaving them wide open for the kill.

"Good time as any to use that bloody bear!" he declared, while struggling to maintain the shield charm.

"No! The five are here. I can feel it! Blind them, I have a plan!"

"Blind them!? This thing is gonna break you fucking—"

"Just do it!"

At first hesitant, Ron mentally cursed himself at his luck and lifted the shield charm, letting it be demolished over by the oncoming beasts. Before they could plow through the two men, Ron exclaimed "Lumos Solem!" producing a blinding flash of sunlight over the entire room, catching the beasts off guard and dazing them momentarily.

Mike immediately pulled on Ron to follow him into one of the passageways with the symbol of a lightning bolt above to their right. The corridor was dark, but after a few turns it brought them into two connecting rooms adjacent to each other by an open wall. Ron was slightly blinded by the flashing of cyan colored strobe lights coming from an enclosed alcove to the left of the first room. Mike looked over at the room adjacent a few feet away and could see four sets of benches on either side and an aisle between them leading to a staircase in the center of the room.

"Weasley! Make some kind of protective enchantment for this room. There's too many of them out there. I'm gonna have a look in the next room. Hurry!"

As Ron saw Mike run over through the empty wall to the next room he began waving his wand in deep focus at the passageway entrance they had come through. "Protego Maxima. Fianto Duri. Repello Inimicum," he said repeatedly, producing a silver blue colored shield of light imitating a mirror between the room and the entrance. "That should to it, at least for now."

Mike entered speedily though the aisle of next room and gazed up the staircase. As he squinted his eyes, he caught a glimpse of the upper portion of a corpse with its arms spread out on top, connected by various cables on its backside. Two large metal pipes also went through the top of the staircase and into the ceiling, letting bursts of steam fly every few seconds. Red smoke could be seen plowing out from the mechanical device implanted on the corpse's chest.

"This is it…" uttered Mike in disbelief.

Ron saw Mike look upwards at the staircase of the next room, but his attention was clutched by the flickering strobe lights. He saw them flash out of a small opening from the enclosed alcove. Feeling curious, he retreated back to it as he stared at the crowd of beasts finally crash onto the charm he had made, rebounding with fury. They roared threateningly, shooting and hitting the shield charm repeatedly without success. That thing won't hold for long, he thought to himself as his backside finally hit the alcove.

When Ron turned around he was surprised to find the small alcove had the appearance of a closet. The left wall had a sign that said 'DEATH' shining in red letters and the right wall had a neon sign with the words 'KILL KILL KILL' lining vertically. But what he couldn't stop and stare at in horror was the portrait of a familiar man. The adrenaline flowed through Ron's system like an infinite IV drip. He was sure his heart was going to explode by the intensity of the hammering in his chest. Color drained from his face, as white as a ghost, rigid, rooted to the spot, clammy, and wide eyed. He didn't seem to care to be nearly blinded by the glimmering light.

The man appeared of Hispanic descent, scar in his left cheek, wore an evil smile and had a white cap. The portrait's large frame was the cause of the repeated flashes of light. Ron was then startled by the sudden sound of broken disco music playing, causing him to raise his wand in defense. Though, nothing occurred. It was like some sick joke playing music to frighten him. Ron touched his chest as he tried to slow his breathing and turned back around to look at the shield charm, now nearly breaking. He turned once more to face the man's evil gaze on his portrait.

"He's one of them…"

Just as he spoke, Mike returned back to him. "Weasley, come over here! I've found the corpse! We gotta go, now!" he snarled as he looked on to see the beasts finally break through the charm.

Ron was fueled with newfound panic as the monsters emptied rapidly into the room.

"Run!" he heard Mike yell and without delay, sprinted to the dark room adjacent to them, narrowly missing being struck by their shots. He joined Mike who led him up the staircase quickly with nearly twenty beasts behind them.

"Up here!" yelled Mike as he sprinted up the staircase.

Ron had a quick look around the room, but was unable to see a thing within the pitch-black darkness. His gaze then shifted up at the end of the stairs, though still unable to see a thing but red smoke coming out of something.

"Where does this lead!? I can't see a bloody thing!" he proclaimed while panting, just as more shots were fired behind them. The hooked creatures had now taken point and rushed with ferocious swings of their clasps closely behind.

"Just trust me!" Mike exclaimed, who also zig zagged and dodged the beasts' shots.

They maneuvered quickly to the top of the stairs, finally reaching the corpse. Thinking quickly, Ron turned and yelled, "Aqua Eructo!" aiming the wand down the stairs and letting the jet fast water stream hit the beasts. They squealed surprisingly and tumbled over, hitting some of the armed monsters against each other.

Pleased with his work, Ron created another shield charm, buying them another few seconds. As he turned he saw Mike tampering with a corpse and was taken aback by its appearance. "It's that bloody thing we saw on that screen! But how does it work!? And what's with the smoke!?" he asked nervously to a Mike that continued to look for a way to use it.

Ron heard the shield charm break behind him as the sturdy brutes hurtled their bodies to them for the kill. But Ron's backside was suddenly pulled by Mike as he saw him extend his palm to the red smoke. Almost instantaneously, Mike's body became thin, sucking itself within the mechanical device on the corpse's torso like a vacuum. Ron saw that his entire body also turned two-dimensional and was whisked away inside. The two men screamed as everything went black; they were pressed very hard from all directions and could not breathe. Iron bands were tightening around their chests, eyeballs forced to the back of their heads, and ear drums pushed deeper into their skulls. Only one word was whispered through Ron's lips at the end of it all.

"Hermione…"


August 27, 2000 (6:48 pm)

Down St. Station – London, England

The evil man with the chevron mustache looked on at Harry and Hermione from behind the door. He saw Hermione turn the pages of his diary repeatedly until she looked up at the ceiling suddenly, as if hearing something calling out to her. Thinking he'd been seen, John carefully retreated away from the door preparing to leave when he heard her speak.

"Ron?" she asked to herself in bewilderment. The man stopped in his tracks at hearing the name, furrowed his brow in surprise and peered back out the door.

"What's wrong Hermione?" he heard Harry speak, who looked concerned at his best friend.

The man saw Hermione appear stunned with her hands clenched tightly onto the diary. She appeared unconscious to the abundance of her feelings that subjugated her and drove her crazy. It was as if a battle of wits was going on in her mind, the good and evil raging against one another for dominance. Her original self had heard his voice. Yet, the Dark Soul within was attempting to drown the familiar feeling of electricity in her heart. Oh, how bewildered she looked, so doubtful and quizzical.

"Hermione what happened!?" pressed Harry, worried at the sudden confusion and fear that hit his best friend.

John too continued to observe her carefully, not fully understanding what was going on. He wondered if her wit was overpowering the new evil coursing through her veins, or was it, perhaps love? He'd been warned by his master of the one thing capable of breaking through to her and was ordered to make sure she not be reminded of it.

She finally blinked and looked over to Harry, still keeping the confused expression on her face. "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Harry asked, looking at her with more confusion, suspicion and concern than before. She no longer looked to be in a trance. It was as if she was realizing something for the first time.

Hermione closed the diary and looked lost in space, searching for answers in her mind. "He spoke to me."

"Who?"

"Ron. It was him. I know it was. I just heard him. Like a whisper," she uttered, still lost in space, her inner self trying to break through the surface.

"Ron? But how's that possible?" urged Harry again as he searched around the room, including the door through which they had come out of. He wondered about the possibility that his best mate was around nearby. John shifted his head back in time before he could be seen. Harry's focus then landed to the corpse next to them and studied it for a few seconds, sensing something was off about it.

"Harry, I think he's in danger. I think he needs our help," she sputtered, suddenly appearing anxious and worried.

At this, John inched a glance back to them, looking dubious himself.

Harry placed both hands on her shoulders in an attempt to calm her down. "Hermione, relax. How could you be so sure?"

"It was him Harry! I swear! It's just…oh…"

She suddenly stopped mid-sentence and looked absent-minded for a brief moment. The corrupt soul within managed to win the battle as it sensed another Dark Soul nearby and took over her mind again almost instantaneously. Her demeanor and body language changed back to the devoid puppet with somber eyes.

"Never mind," she said while shaking her head. Hermione shifted her vision to the door as she sensed the Dark Soul from that direction and saw half of John's face behind it. The killer met her gaze, smiled and retreated again, finally leaving down the stairs and back to the sewers. He knew Hermione wasn't intransigent enough to suppress the power of a Dark Soul, no one was.

Harry stared at her suspiciously. He looked back to the door where she stared and walked over to it, opening it wide open. It was empty save for the filthy stairs that went down to the other door leading to the sewers. He closed it swiftly and returned to her, unsure what had just occurred with his best friend, but unable to leave the subject.

"Hermione, please are you sure you're—"

"Yes Harry! For the last time! I'm fine!" she snapped unexpectedly, feeling irritated by his constant questioning. She saw that he was taken aback by her little outburst and feigned to him an apologetic look. She couldn't break now. "Look, I'm sorry. I know you're worried about what happened to me, but can we please put that behind us? I thought I heard something, that's all. Let's focus on this diary. There's loads of information inside." She hoped this would relieve any suspicion that he had.

Harry was apprehensive of her behavior for a minute but eventually sighed and nodded in defeat, offering a small smile to subdue the tension. "Okay."

But she did not return his smile and instead took more interest in the diary. He moved the gas lamp on the table a bit further away as Hermione opened the diary once more.

"Being the Journal of

John G. Peirce

Otherwise known as

Jack the Ripper"

Harry thought it was odd that the parchment appeared so old from the diary. It was as if it had been around for decades. Hermione turned to the next page and began to read aloud.

"From Hell…

I have performed my bloody ritual upon myself and now exist beyond the veil in the place my master calls Deadside. The darkness is visible here. This hell is all I deserve and all that I have ever desired. Here I shall build a monument to stand for eternity – a Cathedral to Pain. A place of Asylum for all of the unique and misunderstood individuals who shall make it their spiritual home as the time of Armageddon approaches!"

Harry turned to look at Hermione with confusion about the short piece that she had read. But she was too busy observing a drawing of a massive black building with the title, 'Asylum' on top of it. The chimney was labeled, and so were the main gates which had the words, 'locked and guarded' written next to it. As Harry saw the tower his body froze after remembering what Ron had told him through his patronus. He was going to investigate a new lead within a black tower with Mike and wondered if this was it. Though, he opted not to mention this to Hermione out of his suspicion of her strange behavior.

When Hermione turned the page, her eyes squinted and body tightened. Harry too stared intently at the contents of the next page. They saw an image showing four drawings split in half and more writing above it. The drawing on the left had the artist's impression photo of Jack the Ripper and next to it was a drawing that resembled the cachectic corpse in the room next to them. Harry gazed up at the corpse in front of him to compare it to the drawing. Words left him. As if stuck underwater, everything was slow and warbled. His mind was blank and eyes wide as he stared in horror at the corpse drawing.

The image on the right showed the same corpse again and next to it appeared a strange worm-like creature. Arrows were pointed going from right to left, beginning with the worm and ending with the picture of Jack. Of interest was the background color of each of the images. The right image with the corpse and worm had a black background while the left image with Jack and the other corpse was white.

The black image was labeled, 'Deadside' and the white image 'Liveside.' Below Jack's picture on the left had the words, 'The Five,' and below the corpse had the words 'Liveside schism.' The images on the right were similar. 'Deadside schism (Asylum)' was seen below the corpse and 'Dark Soul (Soul Worm)' was written below the worm-like creature. Below the entirety of the set of drawings was a title called 'Schism Conduit.'

Hermione studied the images attentively and also looked up at the corpse within the room trying to discern what they meant.

"What the hell is this?" Harry asked with bewilderment across his face.

Hermione remained quiet and only shook her head. She looked up and down at the corpse and diary, differentiating the set of drawings with the corpse. She then read Jack's writing above the collection of images.

"A great building we shall make of it and a century shall pass Liveside before Asylum is complete. When it is finally completed, we shall send five of my Master's Dark Souls across the veil from Deadside to Liveside to prepare the way for his Armies of Judgement.

To accomplish this I have designed a conduit between this world and the next. The gateways between this world and the next I have called 'Schisms.' The idea behind these is to form a link between two souls on the very brink of crossing over to the next world."

Harry suddenly remembered the rest of Ron's message. He'd been warned of an army of huge immortal beasts that were somehow planned by the five killers to cross into the worlds of the living, both muggle and magical. He studied the worm-like creature and suspected this was one of the Dark Souls that needed to be collected.

"I'm not liking this Hermione…" Something didn't feel right to Harry. "Why would this Jack bloke just leave this diary lying around? Why would he lead me here? I find you and now this. Something's not right about this."

But she merely ignored him and instead turned to the next page which showed a much bigger and descriptive drawing of the corpse in front of them. Its skull was exposed, and its teeth, eyes, organs and tongue were all removed, same as the real one. They noted the mechanical device in its chest was labeled, 'Retractor key,' which Hermione thought was interesting. She read again the writing above the image aloud.

"The Schisms shall act both as transmitting devices and receiver receptacles for the five Dark Souls projecting them across the veil and receiving them deep within their bloody beasts!

The Schisms acting as the receiver receptacles shall be culled Liveside and erected in glory resplendence by five like-minded individuals with the strength to dream of the day when we shall bring about His Glorious Cleansing! With the Schisms built in both worlds dread keys in the form of medical 'Retractors' may open them."

Harry continued to have doubt in his mind as he looked desperately to Hermione for a similar reaction. But she appeared much more calm, almost unfazed about the situation. This wasn't just a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without causal connection. They finally realized how the five killers planned to bring the Apocalypse. But it was almost too easy finding out how. Harry shuffled his feet and rubbed the back of his neck as he continued to keep a look out to the door.

Hermione continued to avoid his skeptical expression and quickly turned to the next page. This time a drawing of a block pyramid was seen with an eye in the middle of it. Harry immediately recognized it. "It's that symbol again!" Hermione looked at him with a surprised look. "But what does it mean!?" he moaned in displeasure while removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes.

"You've seen it before?"

"Yeah. It keeps showing up. First when Ron and I discovered Marie Nicholas' body at Whitechapel station, then in the muggle files, and now here. And look," he said pointing to the three levels of the relatively short pyramid. "Each of these shows the Five killers' symbols. They're also on the walls over there," he said while pointing eagerly to the wall on their left. "It's got to mean something important. It just can't be coincidence that I keep seeing it."

Hermione studied the image of the pyramid and the surrounding symbols of the five killers. At the top level of the pyramid showed a lizard-like stick figure drawing that had the words, 'Symbol of the Lizard King' next to it.

"Harry are you familiar with this?" she asked, pointing at that particular word.

He nodded. "Yeah. It's a sort of nickname for their leader. Or, we think it's their leader. Let's see…" He quickly took out the muggle files and rummaged through them. "Report #1 "LIZARD KING, or otherwise known as Dr. Victor Batrachian. Mass-killer known to be the mastermind behind a prison siege at Gardelle County Penitentiary. Yeah, this bloke. I thought this was their leader."

"So each symbol represents each killer?"

"Yeah."

"They don't look like any runes I've studied. Not that they look like any. In fact, they're pretty basic sketches. A lightning bolt, a lizard, crossed spears, this one looks like a sword, and this one a nail. Look at this also," she said while pointing to a few words next to the pyramid. "It says 'Legion Resplendent at the Dark Heart of the Asylum.' Ring any bell?"

Harry looked at the words, but shook his head. "Not this, no." Putting doubt behind his mind, he now wanted to know more after seeing the reoccurrence of the pyramid eye symbol. "Keep going, see what else we find."

"And so shall it be that the five Dark Souls shall be transmitted across the veil into the receiver receptacles whereupon the Five like-minded individuals shall devour them thereby imbuing themselves with an immortal darkly glowering Life Force!

Not only this but embedded within each of the Five shall be a crystal of the 'prima materia,' an aetheric Prism which shall act as a failsafe key to each 'Soul Gate,' thereby preventing unbelievers from accessing the Way, the Truth and Death!"

Harry once again appeared confused. "Prima materia?"

"It's said to be the original matter of the universe. Don't you remember the Philosopher's Stone? This was the starting ingredient in making it. I've read about it. But this substance is rare. No one knows where to even look to find it."

"It says each of the five killers will be embedded with a crystal of prima materia to act as a failsafe key for the soul gate. The hell's a soul gate?"

Hermione shrugged and turned to the next page. It showed a drawing of a cybernetic-type of gate that had the shape of a metal coffin. Three large metal pipes were implanted on either side and another above that was labeled, 'Primary power compling.' Directly in front of it showed a small four foot stand with a holder on top labeled, 'Prism Receptacle.' The entire drawing had been titled with 'Soul Gate,' making Harry comprehend what the crystal would be used for.

Hermione continued reading.

"The Five shall be unstoppable! They shall be immortal! And I, myself shall join them as the Opener of the Ways!

What a supreme honor!

Once the Schisms are in place and the energizing Dark souls are devoured by the Five, these Five shall erect larger receiver receptacles. These are the 'Soul Gates' to be built in readiness for the reception of His Dark Soul Armies.

For We Are Many!"

Harry's brain formulated no thoughts other than to register that he was more than dismayed. He'd been wrong. The corpses were not made to be the bridge for the dark armies. They were for the five killers only. It was these 'Soul Gates' that were intended to be used, with a special crystal to open them. Harry closed his mouth, then looked at his toes before glancing back up to catch Hermione's eye. She returned his look and seemed to understand what he was thinking.

"Harry…you know what this means, don't you?"

"That crystal thing is a key. To open these gates for their armies to cross. But I don't understand…where are they?"

The two looked around the room suspiciously and back at the corpse, suspecting one to be nearby. Harry still felt uneasy, but Hermione kept going and turned the page where she was frightened to see a blood-curdling monstrous creature drawn. It had the title, 'Trueform,' above it causing her to put a hand up against her mouth, feigning terror. The drawing was a two-way anatomical view of its body, anterior and lateral sides appearing much like a zombified humanoid demon. It looked hefty, vicious with sharp claws at the ends of its arms and with a face appearing much like the plague doctor. Small beam cannons were attached on its forearms labeled, 'Archeric Weapon.' Another worm-like creature appeared within the core of its body labeled, 'Dark Soul (Soul Worm).'

"Harry is that…"

"The creatures they're planning on crossing." He could only gulp and shake his head nervously. Ron…what have you got yourself into? he thought.

Hermione seemingly composed herself and continued reading.

"Whereas the five initial Dark Souls projected via the Schisms are to be spiritual manifestations, these Armies of Judgement shall comprise a multitude of actual physical beings called 'Trueforms,' with each one possessing a glowering Dark Soul at its cruel core.

Thus, on the Day of Judgement, when the time is right, a time which my Master has explained shall occur just before the turn of the Millennium – the Soul Gates shall open and the world shall be cleansed and a new Era shall dawn!"

Harry's worst nightmare was coming true. He continued looking anxiously around the murky room splattered with newspaper clippings and sketches. He began to get the chills at learning the extent of Jack the Ripper's thought process. The meticulous nature of getting everything right, every detail, every little thing to bring upon apocalypse, all within that room. It really was a mad scientist's lair.

"Hermione we have to warn Ron! He doesn't know what he's getting himself into! It's a whole lot bigger than just finding Dark Souls. It's all laid out here for us!"

"But there's a lot more Harry."

"Hermione! We don't have much time!" he hissed, bothered about the amount of time they've already spent in the sewers in Jack the Ripper's hideout.

Though, she knew John wouldn't return and continued to press him to keep going. "If we're going to warn him, we can't leave anything out. There may be other important details. We have to continue."

Harry threw his arms up in the air in frustration. After a few seconds of him internally debating he agreed. "Fine! But hurry! I don't know how much longer we can be in here."

Hermione quickly turned to the next page and saw two drawings this time. One was titled, 'Soul Humes' and showed a drawing of a massive hallway with stacks of large cages on either side, similar to a lengthy prison wing. A walkway connected the two sides down the middle and a large crane could be seen above. The cages were labeled, 'Storage Receptacles (containing Trueform beings).'

"Harry look at all those metal bars and doors. There must be thousands! And they look just like muggle prison cells."

"And those things are locked within them. It's like that bloody claw machine, only with monsters."

He looked at the next drawing below the cages which was titled, 'Dark Engine.' All it demonstrated was a sketch of a large room that had a metal wall on one end that resembled a bank vault with pipes attached to the center of it. From above, cables could be seen connecting the wall to a chair directly in front of it. The cables also connected with the cages from the image above. Hermione couldn't make anything out of this image and proceeded to read its description.

"Of course, all of the above mechanisms shall require an engine to drive them. A great Dark Engine housed at the fearful heart of this place He has called Asylum.

The Dark Engine shall power Asylum and control the 'Soul Hume,' those storage receptacles containing the soldiers of His Army, the 'Trueforms,' 120 of them (this being the number of Dark Souls known to be in existence) required to fuel his thousands of armies.

My master currently possesses but 5 of these, yet His servants are abroad searching out the remainder."

Upon seeing the number one-hundred-twenty, Harry again remembered what Ron had told him when he came back after being lost in the vortex. The red head had tried to explain the evil and immortal power of the Dark Souls as told to him by Nettie. One-hundred-twenty were to be sought, with five already indwelling within the minds of five killers. Harry now clearly knew the magnitude of his investigation as well as the prophecy Ron was involved in. Thousands of armies of those creatures in the diary were to be fueled by the power of all Dark Souls and brought forth through the Soul Gates to rid the magical and non-magical from this world. He felt sick to his stomach. He felt like he couldn't take much more. Hermione quickly turned the page and continued.

"The vast quantities of aetheric power harnessed by the Dark Engine are truly terrifying!

I have, therefore, built into the design a failsafe mechanism."

They both looked at a drawing of the engine block, which was rectangular in shape, built by straight iron and aluminum alloy and consisting of four large pistons above them. Next to the engine block appeared an 'Operating Console.' A small sketch showed the engine block control panels with multiple gauges and buttons connected to three large tubes that had five levels filled with a dark fluid.

Hermione continued.

"Stabilizing Pistons shall be active within the Main Block of the Engine to counteract any destructive surges of power that may occur.

Each Stabilizing Piston is operated via a console."

Hermione turned the page again. She was greeted by three drawings this time. 'Engineer's Key' appeared titled above a sketch of a metal gauntlet with a key at one end of it. One of the large tubes from the previous page was seen with each level numbered one through five. A keyhole could be seen at the center of the control panel connected to the tube labeled, 'Engineer's Key penetrates Operating Console at this point.'

Below the two images appeared the 'Engine Block Plan' which was essentially a simple outline of the engine block. Harry noticed 4 spaces on the drawing were labeled console rooms one through four, with each having their own unique three-digit code. He considered what all of these drawings could possibly mean, but was completely baffled if he was honest.

"I'm not sure I understand this part…"

Hermione chuckled and shook her head. She understood everything and was ready to put up another charade. "Don't you see Harry? Each piston of the engine is controlled by a console. And each console has a code to shut them down. This is it. This is how we disable it! How we prevent those things from getting to our world," she said with a bitter smile.

Harry remained astonished at the design of the engine block. He failed to notice his best friend had flickering waves of purple darkness in her evil eyes. "Blimey…But how could you be so sure? What does it say?"

She continued.

"To deactivate each stabilizing piston a combination is required. These combinations can only be set with an Engineer's Key.

The combinations are as shown."

Hermione then pointed to the three digit codes on all four spaces representing console rooms from the 'Engine Block Plan.'

"Told you! The codes are right here! We just have to find that key and adjust the liquid levels in each of the console rooms. That should surely shut this thing off!"

Harry was stunned. His skin was tingling and began feeling slightly disoriented. She was right. They knew how to shut the five killers' plan down and prevent this whole thing from happening. So many neurons were firing in his mind as ideas, thoughts and plans came and went. His eyes were searching through the floor, thinking of a way to reach his best friend.

Hermione turned to the next page.

"So it is written, so it shall be.

The Grand Design!

FOR WE ARE MANY!

Signed,

Jack the Ripper"

"Well I guess that's it."

She flipped through the rest of the journal, but no more designs or sketches were made that pertained to the Asylum. It seemed to be more of John's personal writings that had little to do with the investigation. She was not interested in any of it.

Harry was still trying to process everything he just discovered and knew he had to inform Ron immediately. He rummaged through his jet-black hair lost in deep concentration. He thought back to when he was first introduced to the muggle files believing he had seen it all, but this diary, it had everything. Everything they needed. He then thought about the Auror team and Robards back at the ministry. He had trusted Mike and Ron to get this done, but this was now beyond them. The thought of calling them in was on the brink of his mind.

"So we know what to do now," Hermione said looking back up at the corpse in the room. She touched the mechanical device now known as the Retractor Key and tried to find out what exactly caused it to transport the Dark Souls from Deadside to the killers. She suspected another schism within the Asylum had to activate it as demonstrated by the four set of images. The one in front of her appeared dusty and out of commission.

Harry finally spoke. "We have to inform Ron. Like now. But only one problem."

Hermione looked back at him. "What's that?"

"We can't go to Deadside remember? We can't just go back to the Department of Mysteries and whisper through the veil. There's no way to contact him."

"Oh," she uttered, resorting back to her nonchalant behavior. "No matter. Ron and Mike are in the tower already right? We just let them know once they get back to us."

Harry's heart drop. Her comment was so out of character, so far from what he knew of her. He just stared at her open mouthed trying to remember how to breath as he was unable to speak, totally stunned at what she had said.

She looked up to him with a smile, no longer wanting to play games and letting herself willingly to slip. "Umm, is something wrong?" she asked a little too politely.

Harry's heart began drilling in his chest. He looked at her eyes and saw the empty void again. He tried to keep his stance casual with no hint of hesitation, but Hermione knew what she was playing at.

"Harry—"

"How do you know about Mike and Ron in the tower?"

The look on Harry's face made her explode within her core as she tried her best to keep collected through the charade. "What do you mean? You told—"

"I didn't tell you anything Hermione…"

Slowly, the panic and anxiety flowed through him. Carefully, he turned his wrist so that his wand was aimed at her which did not go unnoticed by Hermione. She stared down at it and back up at his green eyes, knowing his intentions.

"Harry please…"

"I had my suspicion about you…and I was right. What did they do to you?"

"You're barking. I—"

"What did they do to you Hermione!?"

"Okay, I don't know what you're insinuating, but—"

"But nothing! Give me the diary. We're out of here. I'm calling it in," he exclaimed, now pointing the wand directly in front of her.

Hermione's face of fake concern and worry turned to a more wicked smile quickly. She closed the diary and gripped it tightly with both hands.

"I'm afraid I can't do that Harry. You see…Ron can't know about this. Like at all."

Harry felt the panic like a cluster of spark plugs in his abdomen. Tension grew in his face and limbs, breathing more rapid, more shallow. The thoughts were accelerating inside his head. His suspicion was right. And his worst nightmare was coming true.

"Hermione…give me the diary."

"Did Ron tell you about the immortal power of the Dark Souls? It's quite something, let me tell you."

The room began to feel small and the air thin. Harry couldn't believe his ears. "W-what…!?"

She smiled again and this time Harry did notice the rapid flickering of waves of darkness within her eyes. If he'd blinked, he would've missed it. All his fears were tumbling out unchecked by his brain, as if he'd been in some sort of free fall, unable to analyze things clearly. No…no, no, no, no. Please no. Not that, he thought in his mind as he couldn't believe what he was seeing.

"Harry it's like I've been let free. Free from being held back all these years by the two individuals I thought cared about me."

"What are you saying…?"

Harry was now edging away from her slowly, wand still out in front of him.

"You know, Harry Potter. And Ron will too. His army shall come—"

"No…"

"And I shall sit at the right hand of the lord—"

"No…"

"For We Are Many!"

"No! Stupefy!" shouted Harry, letting the stunning spell hit his best friend directly on her chest.

But Hermione was calm and unperturbed as the spell bounced back, catching Harry off guard and hitting him square in the chest and causing him to fly back against the wall. His wand fell out in front of him, but was not within reach as he clutched his back aching in sharp pain.

"Arrghhh…Hermione…don't!"

"Your friend is gone Harry. I've given her a new personality. She's much better with me by her side now. I think she likes me too."

She moved over to pick up his wand and used it to levitate him up slowly, causing him to cry out in pain. She performed a body binding curse, making him frozen stiff in the air. An invisible hand clasped over his mouth, making him unable to speak or move. An equally ghostly hypodermic needle of adrenaline pierced through his heart, unloading within an instant.

"Nothing will stand in my master's way for Armageddon. It's just the way the world is, Harry. We are Legion. And you, my old friend, are nothing. Nothing."

Hermione lifted his wand again, which caused the terror and anxiety within Harry to increase full throttle. It was a deluge of ice water surrounding every limb, creeping higher until it passed through his mouth and nose. He could feel his ribs heaving as if bound by ropes, straining to inflate his lungs. He heard her shout a familiar incantation. One that he'd heard much too often during his time at Hogwarts. The one spell to end it all. The familiar blinding flash of green light came with a rushing sound.

How quickly love turns to hate. Harry fought for the good memories, even as every terrible thing he had predicted came true. He felt the knife before he saw it. He looked at Hermione's eyes. Eyes that were once filled with so much purpose and love were now replaced with bitterness and hate. The only thing that showed any resemblance of his old friend was the shell her bitter soul inhabited. Hermione was gone. He could only shut his eyes and prepare for the worst to come.


August 27, 2000 (1:33 pm)

Gardelle County Penitentiary – Texas, United States

The pulling sensation finally subsided as Ron and Mike were pushed through a tight squeeze and jumbled out onto a clear and radiant location. Ron rubbed his throbbing head, trying to soothe the disorientation and pain he endured. After a few seconds, he regained focus and saw that they were no longer in the Asylum. In fact, they were no longer in Deadside as evidenced by the brightly lit sun in the cloudless sky and loud repeating siren in the distance.

Ron turned and saw another corpse similar to the one in Deadside that was hitched to the wall behind him, red smoke still fuming from the mechanical device in its torso. He shifted his gaze around the area and saw they had landed in a prison yard. The area was no bigger than four basketball courts spaced out and enclosed by high stone walls with barbed wire on top. Stacked piles of metal boxes could be seen spaced around the yard as well. He saw a staircase to his right that led to a second-floor walkway that went around the perimeter of the walls. A guard station appeared to be on the corner of the second floor.

"Hey Mike…" Ron began as he looked down in horror at the bloodied bodies scattered on the floor. Some were wearing orange prison jump suits and others were in police uniforms. Ron saw that even a few had been decapitated. His breathing picked up speed again as he looked over in a frenzy to Mike, but was stunned to find that the ebony-skinned man no longer had his glowing eyes.

Mike rubbed his head in pain as he looked to his surroundings and up at the red head. "Shit…my head. Where are we? And what's with that siren sound?"

Ron continued to stare in horror at the bodies laid around the floor. The blood drained from his skin as he appeared more pale than his skin could possibly get. Every movement became robotic. In that moment, he was more machine than man. He looked back to him. "You may want to have a look at yourself mate," spoke Ron nervously as he gulped.

Mike narrowed his gaze towards him then looked around at the bodies lying dead in the dirt, the tall stones walls with barbed wire and up at the shining sky. At seeing the bright sun, he gazed down at his hands and at his chest surprised to find himself normal again.

"Oh no. Don't tell me…"

But just then, funky disco music began bellowing loudly through the prison yard, drowning the siren and nearly crushing Ron's eardrums. Sharp pistol shots fired into the air were heard that went along with it, causing the two men to look around frantically for its source. That's when Mike understood where they had landed into.

"Hey there, brothers! Yo! What's happenin' my mans!?" they heard from a flamboyant and highly energized individual that came moonwalking out of the guard's station. It was a man who appeared in his thirties wearing the same orange prison pants as the lifeless prisoners on the floor, but instead of the orange top he sported a blue Hawaiian shirt with green palm trees on it. He had it buttoned up only halfway, revealing his hairy chest. The man wore a white cap to go along with his Miami look and appeared to be of Hispanic descent. A pistol was held in his right hand and a police baton in his left.

Ron immediately recognized the individual. It was the same man from the flashing portrait and the muggle files. One of the five killers. He recalled the man was one of three currently said to be facing death row in a Texas muggle prison. He began to feel his pulse pounding in his temples as it pressed outward, jerking the arteries within. Ron too finally realized where they had traversed into.

"What the hell…?" he heard Mike say, who was now standing up and looking up at the man sternly above.

"Hey yank! Hey brit! Hey soul brothers! It's good to see ya! You came a long way for the party – but, hell, it's gonna be worth it! I'll see to that!" he announced with a jovial tone, cavorting around to the loud disco music still playing in the background.

"Hey! We haven't come for a party, asshole!" Mike retorted, causing the individual to howl back in laughter.

"Can't back out now! The clock's ticking and your number's coming up! And it's a Mark Five, Verse Nine, and Echo Foxtrot shall we dance!" Just as he finished his sentence the man nonchalantly raised up his pistol and fired at Mike and Ron, causing them to quickly hide behind a pile of metal boxes in front them.

Ron staggered to get ahold of his wand, while avoiding the shots as Mike pulled out his own gun appearing crossed. "You crazy sonofabitch! You got your damn party all right!" yelled Mike as they struggled to take cover, only to hear more chuckling from above.

"Whooo!" exclaimed the man with gusto. "It's an End of the World sock-hop, the Apocalypse Prom at Marco's yard – you're on the guest list Mikey, and you too Ronnie! And guess what, Fred and little Lukey's comin' too. They got the best seat in the house – with a split lip 'neath that big old engine. An' their screamin' for mommy, but mommy's gone down Deadside way. She can't help them and neither can you!" he declared as he moonwalked back inside the guard station.

That's when Mike quickly came out from cover in anger and shot two rounds from his gun. "Damn you!" he announced furiously. Except regular handgun bullets were discharged instead of the usual beams of blue light. Mike appeared slightly surprised that his shadow powers were not concentrated into the gun like they did in Deadside. Ron immediately remembered him mentioning that his powers only worked at night and they were due for a few more hours of Texas sunshine.

Ron couldn't shake the fact that the killer somehow knew who they were, and Fred, in addition to Mike's late little brother. Fear turned to anger quickly. He didn't know what to expect from each killer, but wasn't anticipating for this individual to be as exuberant as he was. He heard another short laugh from within the guard station. Mike continued firing in that direction until the clip was emptied.

"Yeah! All riiight! That's the spirit, Mikey! Let's rock and roll!" declared the man as he came back storming out onto the walkway, shooting endless rounds at Mike and Ron, forcing them to take cover again. They quickly moved behind the metal boxes again narrowly avoiding the shots.

Ron made a grimace as he could see the bullets ricochet from his cover and thought how muggles could create such deadly weapons without magic. The endless loop of disco music could still be heard in the background making for great psychological warfare. The upbeat tempo and sunshine put his brain in overload like excess caffeine. He felt the urge to run, escape, hide. For the moment flight was taking over fight.

"Weasley! Don't just stand there, you idiot! We're back in Liveside damn it! Hex him! Turn that gun to mush! Do something!" scolded Mike angrily.

Ron quickly remembered and summoning all his courage, edged closer around the boxes to get a better look at the individual, holding tightly onto his wand. Just as he had a peek around the boxes, a bullet came straight in his direction, causing him to fall back and scramble for cover again.

"Gotta be faster than that Ronnie boy!" snickered the man above as he let off more shots to the two men while still prancing around to the beat of the music.

"Weasley! Are you a fucking kidding me!?" Mike chastised again.

Ron stood as if a jolt of electricity had struck his core. "Shut it you arse! I have a plan. Just follow my lead!"

Mike replaced his clip and gripped his gun tighter, still holding cover behind the metal boxes. He then saw Ron suddenly disapparate away from behind the boxes. Appearing confused, Mike looked around for where he could have gone, until he heard the apparition noise from on top of the walkway on the second floor. As he peeked around the boxes, he could see the red head directly in front of the man, only a few feet away.

"Expelliarmus!" exclaimed Ron as a jet of red light escaped his wand and on the verge of hitting the killer's gun out of his hand.

But the man seemed to anticipate the move as he quickly used the baton to rebound the spell back to Ron, who cast a shield charm in time before being hit.

"Ha! C'mon Ronnikins! You're so predictable! Are you gonna stun me? I'm right here!" he yelled as he raised his gun ready to shoot Ron.

"Stupefy!" exclaimed Ron in a panic, though this too was rebounded away by the man's baton. He began to feel his adrenaline spike. His inner voice of caution whispered softly not to rise so fast, but it couldn't break the scream for unfiltered rays and fresh air. He saw the man look at him with a menacing smile, the kind to give you endless nightmares. "Hey Mike! Any time now!" Ron howled, gazing nervously below.

Just as the man was about to raise his gun again at Ron a bullet hit him on his backside, causing him to flinch and look down at Mike who kept firing. With every shot the killer took he groaned slightly and cringed, until finally sustaining plenty to come down on one knee.

"We got you, you sonofabitch!" raved Mike ecstatically.

But Ron didn't seem as relieved as he knew it was all too easy to bring him down, sensing something wasn't right. His wand trembled in his hand as it was still aimed at the man while he approached him slowly. The killer's head was down and face unable to be seen, though a sudden sinister chortle was heard as he arched his back and looked up at the sky howling in laughter like if he had heard the joke of the century.

The man quickly got off his knee and sprinted to Ron, who was caught off guard and sustained a hard blow to his abdomen from the baton, having the wind knocked out of him. As the red head was hunched over grimacing in pain with his hands clutched, the man immediately pistol whipped him in the face.

"Ginger!" yelled Mike as he saw Ron hit the deck. Blood boiling in his veins, Mike brought his pistol back up and emptied a new clip at the man who welcomed the bullets gladly with arms wide open, laughing and dancing around to the beat of his ridiculous disco music.

"Hey Mikey! Don't you get it yet!? I'm invincible! Hahaha!"

"How the hell…!?"

"You're not the only one that can't die space cadet! Your time is finished. Ronnie here can't help you now! And his little girlfriend is with us now!"

The man leaped from the second floor and landed collectively on the floor below. Mike went after him in a rage, both men receiving blows from each other's pistols until they clashed and rolled together onto the ground. Mike was soon on top with leverage, punching him ruthlessly in the face with closed fists, only to elicit more laughing from the psychopath.

"Impressive!" exclaimed the man as he himself found the opportunity and slugged Mike directly on his nose, making him flinch back and hold his face in pain. The cheerful man quickly got on his feet and shot Mike three times square in the chest savagely, letting him fall back in intense pain.

"Arrghh…! You bastard…! You…won't...get away with this!"

The man shook his head in amusement. "C'mon Mikey. You just don't get it, do you? Prophecy's been written my brother! Just look at ol' Ronnikins back there. His little girlfriend is gonna bring my master's evil army here. Just you wait. The show is just beginning!"

Mike continued clenching his chest with pressure as he began crawling away, his blood pouring onto the ground. The man followed him casually, as if teasing the kill. Mike sensed he was on his way back to Deadside and was concerned about leaving Ron behind. He caught a glimpse behind him once more and saw the man's gun was aimed directly at his face. He closed his eyes expecting the worst when suddenly the man was struck with a beam of fire from behind, causing him to jump around and scream erratically.

Mike turned his gaze upward and saw a bloodied Ron had performed a blasting charm on the man, who was now momentarily distracted by the flames. He then saw Ron disapparate and reappear before him.

"The bear! Hurry!" implored the red head in a panic.

Without a second thought, Mike took out Luke's teddy bear and focused on Nettie's location back at the church on the hill in Louisiana. A powerful blue aura glow immersed the two and within a flash they were gone.

The man on fire finally ceased the flames, without so much of a burn on his skin. Dusting himself off he looked around at the bloodied bodies on the floor and back up at the walkway above, yet there was no sign of Mike and Ron. That's when the groovy music began to stutter and lag, until it was eventually turned off by an unknown source. The only sounds that could be heard now were the reverberating sirens, gun fire in the distance and helicopters swarming above the prison.

A wicked smile played on Marco Cruz's lips as he looked ahead to the schism with red smoke on the opposite wall, the entrance to Deadside. His gaze then settled for the clear sky above. A sudden burst of hysterical laughter barked out of him, like an insane man let loose to the world for the first time.

Chapter Text

August 27, 2000 (7:01 pm)

Down St. Station, London – England

The blinding flash of green light matched Harry's eyes as he felt the killing curse edge closer and closer until it suddenly vanished without a trace. Harry, still floating in the air bound tightly by the body binding curse, opened his eyes and gaped at Hermione in shock. He looked frantically around the room to see what happened only to find his best friend, or rather, what was left of her staring at his wand utterly perplexed.

"I don't understand! You should be—" but she didn't finish her sentence as she flung his wand across the room in a rage, causing Harry to be forced back violently and hit the deck, though becoming free of the curse. Hermione fumbled through her pocket to pull her own wand out, while Harry knocked over the wooden table and leaped behind it.

"Avada Kedavra!" she shouted, unsuccessfully hitting Harry in time and instead blowing up the table in front of him, causing a small explosion. The blast knocked Harry further back toward the corpse, while Hermione was forced back by a small fire that had formed from the fallen gas lamp. The dozens of newspaper clippings and parchment soon caught fire, forcing her further back against the wall by the door.

Thinking quickly on his feet, Harry looked hectically at the floor for his wand as the roaring flames began to expand rapidly to the walls. His eyes finally landed on a familiar piece of wood and dashed to it, before being consumed by the flames.

Hermione's vision was blocked by the blaze as she was unable to see Harry beyond the heat and smoke. "Aguamenti!" she announced, conjuring water from her wand to extinguish the fire. As it sizzled out and saw the fumes clear she was surprised to see Harry's wand aimed at her.

"Accio diary! he shouted before she could launch another killing curse. The diary was then pulled off her grip, causing her to be in a daze for a quick second. Harry saw her raise her wand again, but was ready for it. His mind was fixed upon a location and in that moment tried desperately to remember the three D's.

He caught the diary in time before his body twisted and contorted, as everything turned black for a quick moment. The last thing he remembered was hearing a distinct yell and a glowing blue light striking him before disapparating from Jack's hideout. Hermione stared incredulously at the empty space where Harry had occupied, save for what seemed like a piece of flesh that was left behind.

"NO!" she cried out in complete outrage, so lost in that moment and the torment her brain was in. It was visible in her eyes, the tension in her muscles and the inability to understand why her curse hadn't worked.

She walked over to examine the bloodied piece that Harry sustained from her severing spell when suddenly she heard a familiar voice inside her head. It was vaguely distinct and in a tone that suggested worry and panic. She looked desperately to the ground with her hands on her head, wanting to pull out every curl on her head. The brief moment of disorientation passed and she looked around the burnt room still slightly adrift. She noticed the corpse was completely intact, yet, all the parchment and newspaper clippings were gone with the flames.

"Don't be disappointed," spoke a voice behind her.

Turning around quickly after being startled, Hermione aimed her wand at the man that had crept into the room. It was Jack again, or John as she had come to recognize him. He looked stern as ever, with a small grin on the edge of his lips, complimenting his chevron mustache.

"Hey, we're on the same side, remember?" he said with his arms up, frozen in place. Hermione didn't speak, instead giving him an angered expression. She was fuming and couldn't shake away the fact she had failed her first task.

"Master won't be pleased with this mess," he said surveying the room with arms still up. "My diary was stolen as well, I presume?"

Hermione continued staring at him boiling with anger. It was like an impossible buildup of steam, burning within her, and nearing its way out.

"We had our doubts—"

"Why did you leave it sitting there so easy for him to find then!?"

Jack chuckled. "Part of my master's great plan. I suppose he told you, didn't he?"

"Of course he did!"

"Then, it doesn't matter if Potter has it. We know how the prophecy is going to go. It won't matter in the end. Besides, you're the one who didn't prevent him from entering."

Hermione maintained her position, wand gripped tighter and with a look that warned against any sudden movements. "Oh shut it! He has everything! Don't you understand how desperately I wanted to intervene as he were going through it!? Do you have any idea how many times he's survived the killing curse!? And now he's going to meet—"

"With whom? Your boyfriend?"

"Don't start," she warned, edging slightly closer to him. Her eyes glimmered once more with the purple waves of darkness that did not go unnoticed by Jack.

He remained silent for another moment, arms still up as another grin crept along his lips. He looked to the corpse across the room and smiled wider. Hermione noticed this and looked quickly back to look at it as well, but upon setting eyes on it again, nothing had changed.

"What are you smiling at?"

"You still have much to learn, Hermione. Ah, just sounds lovely, doesn't it? The way it flows off my tongue," he said, finally putting his arms down and offering a seductive look.

But Hermione appeared unfazed and instead looked utterly disgusted at his display of frivolity. "You're vile and sick. I know all about your little—"

"Of course you do. Anyways, Master can't give you a whole spill. That's why I'm here, to bring you up to speed on some things. You're not much of an actress, by the way. I mean, he saw right through you! But no matter."

"I'm warning you…"

"It's funny really, I'm smiling because…well just look at the corpse. It's inactive, which means your little boyfriend and that Shadow Man haven't got to it yet."

Hermione raised an eyebrow. "How can they know how to activate it if—"

"They've already crossed to Liveside using Marco's schism. We had two test runs to ensure they work properly. Marco's and Milton's schisms were activated successfully and operate without complication. Though, it seems Mr. Weasley and Mr. LeRoi have managed to find the Cathedral to Pain, where the rest of the schisms lie and have even crossed through one of them. The others require a key. But they're well-hidden with absolute guarantee they will not find them. I'm sure you've read about them in my diary."

"The Retractors."

"Why, yes. They're mechanical devices of my invention. Quite unique type of dark magic that binds two souls in a state of flux, creating a sort of bridge between both worlds. Without it, the bridge is closed. Without it, they cannot cross to Liveside."

"And how long before they find them? How long before they activate all your corpses and kill you all? If they succeed—"

"Well that's our job, isn't it my dear? To stop them. To stop your lover."

"Enough!"

"Oh, have I hit a nerve? I'm sorry. You know I'm actually quite surprised at their progress. They've gotten this far and without my diary! And since you let Potter escape there's no telling what will happen now."

Without a word, Hermione launched a blasting curse at Jack, only for him to re-direct it to the adjacent wall with a finger, creating a small explosion. Hermione covered her body and appeared taken aback at his simple display of defense.

"Come now, Hermione. We're immortal now. That thing's utterly useless. Come. I have to show you the engine block," he said with a wicked smile and a hand leading toward the door. "Let me show you what you've been missing."

He began to turn away despite Hermione's wand still aimed at him. Her mind did a U-turn as her angered expression turned to that of confusion. She narrowed her gaze at his backside. "Engine block? But that's in—"

"Deadside, yes," he replied turning back to face her before turning the door. "You are in the possession of a Dark Soul now, Hermione. Technically speaking, I could slice your throat right here and now and you'd be there in a second. And if you so wish, you could return to the world of the living with my schisms or better yet, the same gates intended for our Master's armies."

Hermione recalled the pictures she saw in Jack's diary that the Five had intended to use as the main link to bring forth Legion's Dark Soul army. She suddenly remembered what he meant. "The mechanical coffin gates…"

Jack chuckled again and had a more devilish smile than before. "They said you were brilliant. Yes, come. Forget about Potter. I'll show you what me and our Master have been building up to. You still have much to know. Let me…stimulate your mind."

Hermione made another repulsive face. "But why didn't my curse work!? I had him! It just dwindled before it even reached him."

"That, I cannot explain."

"And what if he's back in our flat? What if he calls in the rest of the Aurors?"

"Don't worry. He won't. And if he gets any ideas, he'll be unable to come back here anyway. It's been sealed off by our power just now. I suppose you heard about the whole ruckus and riot the other three have caused in that prison in Texas?"

Hermione nodded, having finally lowered her wand.

"Well there's police and special forces all surrounding the prison unable to enter for the same reason. They don't see anything but there's an invisible blockade that blocks off all forms of magic. Not even MACUSA can enter. Believe me they've tried. Same as my hideout here. Kingsley and the Prime Minister himself can do all they want and can't get an invitation here. I made a special exception for Potter, but now the only way in or out is through that schism. So I'll tell you again. There's nothing to worry about. We're nearly there, Hermione! Come, I know you'll love what I have to show you."

John opened the door and without so much of a glance back, headed down the stairs. Hermione had an internal battle within her head, but her decision had already been made. She put her wand away and was about to follow when she stopped to look back to the corpse after hearing the familiar voice once more. It was distant and low, but lucid and unambiguous. It was her name again. For a second she thought if she had imagined it. It went as quickly as it came. She shook her head once more and proceeded down the stairs.


August 27, 2000 (1:49 pm)

Bayou Paradis, Louisiana – United States

The shining blue light diminished from Luke's teddy bear as the duo appeared within the small room by the church's altar. Mike collapsed onto the floor, continuing to groan in pain while nursing the gunshot wounds on his chest. Ron went down to help him when he saw a little man in green clothes resembling a disfigured dwarf run to them from the next room.

"Bloody hell!" exclaimed Ron as he quickly stood and retreated away as the little man approached him curiously.

"Oi! What's wrong lad? Don't recognize me now?" spoke the grinning dwarf-like creature in his Irish accent.

Ron tilted his head in surprise and furrowed his brow, recognizing the voice. "J-Jaunty?"

The imp smiled mischievously with a wide grin. "Tá, dat be me! I be a ssslitherin' snake in Deadside, but here I got this magnificent body thanks ter—"

"Me," interrupted an annoyed looking Nettie who had her arms crossed as she came out of the next room to join them. She saw Mike lie on the wooden floor hemorrhaging and still clutching his chest, gasping for air. She moved over to him and knelt to tend to his wounds. "Gunshots? In Deadside?" she asked while staring up at Ron with a menacing look.

The red head could only rub the back of his neck and look down sheepishly. "Umm not quite. We ran into a bit of trouble," he said in a low voice. He then grunted himself as he bent over, one hand holding the nearby wall and the other onto his abdomen, suddenly remembering the blows he had taken.

Mike threw his head back in laughter as if what Ron had said was some kind of joke, erupting more sharp pain and difficulty breathing. He coughed profusely and wheezed, working to breathe. Nettie pressed her palm against his chest and muttered a few indiscernible words under her breath. Ron saw a faint red glow on Mike's chest that healed his wounds almost instantly. He raised his eyebrows in awe at the display.

"Better?" she asked Mike in her thick native accent with a smirk.

"Loads. Thanks, Nettie," remarked Mike gratefully as he was helped up by Jaunty and her. The ebony man stretched his figure and cracked his head, appearing to have regained his energy completely in a matter of seconds.

"My pleasure honey." Nettie looked between the two men with hands on her hips. "So, what the fuck happened? You both look like shit. You had one job to do. Give it to me straight. And no bullshit neither."

Ron looked nervously at Mike who did not hesitate to look sternly back at Nettie. He looked like he was ready to explode at what had occurred just moments before. "I'll give it to you straight alright. We got fucked Nettie, pretty much, by one of those fucking assholes in the prison. This extravagant jackass just bent us over and fucked us like we were nothing! I mean goddamn. If this is only a small part of what we're up against then we're screwed! His magic was next to useless as well!" he exclaimed pointing to Ron. "And better yet, I was too! Out in the fucking daylight all vulnerable and shit against this bastard."

"You've found the bridge then?" questioned Nettie, now seemingly impressed at their progress since their last visit when they last updated her.

Mike snickered and looked down, shaking his head. "Oh yeah, we found it alright. Jaunty was right. It's these corpses deep inside the Asylum that somehow connect both worlds. It took balls to get in, but more luck to get out."

"I knew it!" exclaimed the Irishman who clapped joyfully while beaming and jumping up and down. All three others looked at him keenly, which caused him to stop abruptly, offering a rather shy grin.

Ron stepped in to talk, still holding his abdomen. "We were in some part of the Asylum called the Cathedral to Pain. It's extremely guarded by these pig-like beasts with hooks and guns. Mike's right. We were lucky to have even made it out of there. Well, we found this corpse there. It was sorta like a port key that sucked us into it and made us reappear here in the living world. Except the one we went through took us to a muggle prison."

"Gardelle Penitentiary…" uttered Nettie, now crossing her arms again. "Sonofabitch. You two did find the way…"

Ron continued. "We didn't have time to ask where we were. This bloke, completely mental I might add, came outta nowhere and attacked us. He had this weird music playing, shouting shit that didn't make sense and everything. Hell, he even knew who we were! And Fred! I'd still like to know how he knew that, by the way. But he was one of them. I recognize him from the files you gave us."

Nettie rubbed her chin in deep thought. "Sounds like Marco Cruz, AKA the Repo Man. Asshole's on death row, same as the other two killers there. Okay, what else happened?"

Mike was the one to speak. "When we crossed from the Asylum, it was daytime, just like—" he looked to the doorway of the church and saw the sun rays hitting through the mosaic windows. "Just like here. This guy couldn't be killed Nettie. No matter how many shots this fucker took, he was still on his feet. Almost like he was invincible! Hell, even magic was useless."

Nettie looked towards Jaunty who still had an ugly grin on his face. "You forgot somethin' I told you both at the Marrow gates," the little man answered playfully.

Ron looked at him with a confused expression. Mike appeared irritated and ready to scold him if he didn't clarify soon. Jaunty continued. "These psycho-loonies are immortal and damn near indestructible because of the Dark Souls they carry! As the two of you are now, I'll wager my left bollock you can barely make a dent on 'em. I told you Michael! You'll be needing your shadow powers to defeat em! 'Cept they won't be comin' out in daylight, mind you!" he added while failing to stop his smirking.

Mike made a quick two step move towards Jaunty, who flinched and leaped back in fear. Ron stared at Jaunty as if he'd grown two heads. "I get that it needs to be night and all for Mike's powers, but how can they help? No offense to Mike, but we just got fucked in our arses by that bloody wanker! I mean it didn't even seem like he was trying for fuck's sake!"

Nettie uncrossed her arms and edged toward Ron slowly, appearing provoked, making him retreat nervously after his little outburst. He saw a faint aura glow in her eyes that would've been missed if he had blinked. "You listen here. And listen well. A Shadow Man has the power to break the seal on the Govi and take the Dark Soul within. This seal was placed by the Ancients a Millennia ago and was made to be unbroken by anything but them. Only a Shadow Man has the same power to do it. With Mike's power, he can destroy the five and bring the Dark Soul out of them, just like in Govi. But Jaunty's right. Without nightfall, bringing these pricks down isn't going to be easy."

Mike intervened between Ron and Nettie, appearing peeved at seemingly called useless under the sun. "But it's daylight Nettie! There's no spell to bring on nightfall! And unfortunately, we don't have time to just sit back and wait for those assholes to bring their armies here, remember?"

She met his gaze fiercely, not backing down. Ron saw what was perhaps the best example of intense passion between them. He was briefly reminded of how he and Hermione fought. It was too much of a bitter memory from their last row. He then saw Nettie get lost in thought for a quick second before turning away. The two men and dwarf looked at her back side with anticipation until she spoke.

"I have an idea. Mike's esteemed predecessor, Maxim St. James once spoke to me of L'Eclipser, the bringer of night. An ancient blade said to have the power to unleash the shadow into the world of men. But this blade is hidden within the deep heart of Deadside, possibly within the Temples of the Ancients. You better find it and bring it back here to me."

Ron couldn't believe what he was hearing and threw his hands up in the air in frustration. Mike just merely stared at her backside until she finally turned. He too seemed infuriated by this new information and continued to stare at her unbelievably.

Ron spoke sarcastically. "Great. More things to find. By the way, in case anyone was wondering we still have over a hundred fucking souls to find!"

"How many have you collected?" asked Nettie rather impatiently to the red head.

He looked to Mike who could only lift his eyebrows in slight awkwardness. "Umm…eight."

Nettie turned away again, this time more bitter and vexed than before. "That's not enough!" she exclaimed, slamming her fist on the nearby altar, causing Jaunty to flinch again in fear.

Ron thought her behavior to be a bit strange but shrugged this off. He saw her massage her temples as she was thinking. "You both can't defeat the five with such a low shadow level. Eight Dark Souls, are you fucking kidding me!?"

"So what are you suggesting Nettie? That we go back to Deadside and look for some blade, on top of all the other shit we have to find?" questioned Mike.

She got into his face again with a cunning and fearless expression. "You don't understand, do you? Did you not read the Les Cartes? It's been written within the prophecy you idiots! Don't you see!?"

Ron narrowed his gaze and scratched his head, utterly bemused. She rolled her eyes and paced back and forth in front of the altar, refreshing their minds about what the prophecy cards had said.

"The vivid dream I had is coming true! Go back to the fucking cards! With greater powers did the Man of Shadow finally enter Asylum and did find the Gateways within that lead to the World of Men. And he passed beyond them with the man who would aid him before world's end. And together they did confront The Five, but in the broad light of day did they fall to them."

Ron seemed to remember what she was saying and quickly pulled out the cards, making Mike and Jaunty look at them curiously. Ron scrambled through them until he came to the one with the two men on their knees, one slamming their fist against the ground and the other grabbing his head as if he had gone insane. The dark tower was in the background with red chains connecting to the five killers' symbols. Ron's heart pounded and eyes widened as Nettie was delivering each line correctly. He was clammy with a glisten of cold sweat on his brow.

Nettie continued pacing and marveling them with more of the prophecy. "The Man of Shadow did break the Sisters' spell on the Govi and in taking the Dark Souls' power, he did unite it within him. And the Sorceress fell into a deep trance, her powers exhausted. And the Shadow did fall upon the World of Men.Does that sound familiar? Look at the cards Weasley! They're in your fucking hand! It's me in those drawings! The one with an eclipse in the sky! The prophecy is coming true! You've been to the Asylum and confronted one of the five! You fell to him in daylight, and must now find L'Eclipser to bring the night! Look at what's next!"

Ron moved quickly between the cards again and focused on three specific ones with Mike and Jaunty looking on intently. The first was of three blue colored women surrounding a single Govi. The second was the one of a dark-skinned man resembling Mike again with three purple worm structures in front of him. The third was of the woman resembling Nettie seemingly asleep on the ground with the black tower in the background and an eclipse in the sky.

She kept going. "You understand, right? The 'Sisters' within the Ancient Temples are protecting more of the Govi that are needed to advance further within the Asylum. It's drawn right there on that fucking card! And it's more than obvious that they have the blade as well."

Ron appeared confused. "Sisters? As in these blue women?"

Jaunty was unable to keep his composure and laughed uncontrollably. "They're not women lad! They're a feisty bunch! Ancient guardians of the Temples in Deadside is more like it! Three Temples to be exact! Michael here knows these places too! Tell 'em Michael!"

Ron looked over to him and saw that Mike was pinching the bridge of his nose, slightly more annoyed. "I've never actually been to them, Jaunty. But I've heard stories about them. Temples guarded by spirits of noble women serving the Ancients. If they're protecting more Dark Souls and the blade, then I see no place better aside from the Asylum. Problem is only way to them now is through the Paths of Shadow past the coffin gates, which are sealed off unless we get even more Dark Souls. See the problem?"

Ron shook his head in disbelief at the task at hand. "Fucking hell! So, we have to travel to these Ancient places, gamble and hope they're protecting this blade we need to bring the night to the living world, just so Mike can use his powers and kill those tossers, all while recovering the remainder of the Dark Souls in time before they cross their armies? You lot are off your rockers! This is completely mental! Barmy! Mad! Stupid!" he proclaimed while throwing his arms up repeatedly much to his chagrin. The pain in his abdomen and head also made him grimace once more.

Mike and Nettie looked at one another and sighed, seeming to understand that the red head was right to an extent. To them it should by no means be a difficult task. And everyone within that room knew it.

The red head took Nettie's place and paced back and forth, thinking about the implications that would come with what she said. They were useless in fighting the killers if they were all going to be like that same man from the prison. Mike needed his powers to bring them down, but it was impossible without that ancient blade to bring forth the night. And now they had to go to a few temples within Deadside to recover the blade and remaining Dark Souls. Though, something didn't feel right to him. There was something bothering him in the back of his mind about the entire ordeal. He felt as if he was being used almost as a pawn.

"Sorry to interrupt your stupendous back and forth pacing lad!" spoke Jaunty suddenly. He caught Ron's attention who was taken out of his thoughts. "But I got just a quick question 'bout the corpse ya went through. Did ya see any others?"

The question caught all three of them off guard. Mike intervened again. "Jaunty, what the hell are you on about now?"

"Well if me memory's correct, then there should be five corpses, right? 'Cept if ya two didn't see no others, who's to know whether they're open or not?"

Ron appeared confused for what seemed like the hundredth time as he narrowed his gaze at the little imp. "I'm not sure what you're getting at…"

Nettie seemed to understand as comprehension dawned on her face. "He means the rest may be locked and inactive. If one of the corpses is active, then it wasn't by mistake. They're carrying their plan as we speak and are beginning to execute the commencement of Armageddon. However, if the rest are inactive, then it is possible something else may be needed to open them."

"Oh no…" Ron covered his face with both hands, seeming to be done with all the item collection. He raged deep inside for not being able to just use a summoning charm to bring them forth. "What are you saying then? That they may need some kind of key to open them?"

Nettie and Jaunty nodded in unison, but Mike shook his head. "We couldn't check the others. I saw four corridors and another room across from where we entered the Cathedral. It was heavily guarded so we could only go randomly through one of them which happened to be activated. If the others are anything like where they kept the corpse we went through, then surely they'd be active. But then again, who knows?"

Nettie fumbled through her hair quickly with both hands looking absolutely done. "That's not important right now! Whether they are activated or not you still need to get your asses back to Deadside and look for that blade! Time is not on our fucking side!"

Jaunty coughed rather loudly after her sudden outbreak of emotion, interrupting once again and making all three of them look at him irritated. "Oi! Just wanted to say one last thing you lot! The elephant or shall I say Otter, in the room," he mentioned while looking at Mike and Nettie with a sly expression and low tone.

Mike suddenly remembered something. He'd been so caught up with the Repo Man that he had forgotten why he sent Jaunty back to Louisiana in the first place. Hermione's patronus had reached Ron, a feat thought to be impossible and had ordered the snake to consult with Nettie about the manner. As he continued staring at the Irishman, he could see the little man look nervously at Nettie, apparently uncovering new information. Mike then looked at Ron who still had a bewildered look on his face.

"Jaunty…not the right time you idiot," fumed Nettie who was beginning to lose her patience.

"Might as well tell 'em! He'll find out anyway," he blurted out without thinking, then mentally cursed himself while shutting his eyes and putting both hands over his mouth.

"Quiet you fool before I skin you!" scolded Nettie, nearly giving him a smack, causing the little Irishman to flinch again.

"Hold it! What's going on? I'm fucking right here by the way!" exclaimed Ron, appearing annoyed that they had kept information hidden from him.

Mike noticed Ron still had the cards in his hands and went over to grab them.

"Hey!"

Mike shuffled between the cards and found the one he was looking for, offering it to Nettie. She took it and observed it well, before looking over to Ron. It was the card that intrigued the red head the most. The card he had asked Nettie to interpret, but who only downplayed it and said she had no clue what it meant. It showed a man with a bloodied mouth sitting on a throne like a king and a woman in white robes resembling Hermione floating above him with closed eyes and open arms.

Mike saw Nettie take a good long look between the card and Ron. "I knew there was something you weren't telling me since the beginning Nettie. You tell me to ensure Granger not discover the details of the prophecy, but we all saw that silver otter in Deadside. You failed to tell me that she was now on board with knowing about the killers and everything. And now she can remarkably use a simple patronus to cross to Deadside? What else aren't you telling us?"

"Wait! What's Hermione got to do with this!? You told me you just had a dream about her and didn't know what this card had meant! What's her patronus have anything to do with this!?"

The two men gathered before Nettie like two lions ready to pounce on their prey. Except Nettie appeared unhinged and stared back between them utterly pissed off. Jaunty crept on top of the altar and sat to have a better look at the display.

The voodoo priestess finally backed off and sighed, rubbing her eyes in frustration. "Weasley, have you re-contacted Potter? You sent him a patronus yourself after updating me on your quest the last time, didn't you?"

Ron looked over to Mike who nodded his head. "Yeah and Hermione replied that they were fine. Mike's right. Her patronus did reach me in Deadside. She said they had a lead on the muggle killer in London. I don't understand! What's that got to with anything?"

Nettie now had a slight hint of concern in her eye. "What's that got to do with anything? Everything. Your best friend is in danger. Or was, shall I say," disclosed Nettie with a mysterious look on her face. Jaunty snickered, but stopped immediately after Nettie gave him a scowl. The little man gulped and put his hands against his mouth trying to control himself.

"What are you on about!?" Ron asked anxiously. A nagging voice in the back of his mind sensed nothing but doom ahead.

"Think Weasley! The first time I brought you here you wanted your little girlfriend involved! I tried to prevent her from knowing anything to protect her, but you just wanted her help, didn't you? Didn't you!?"

Ron tried but failed to think clearly about what Nettie was saying. He continued to have a bewildered look on his face, but recalled he was adamant about having her help him to some degree with his case. "Well yeah but—"

"I warned you about the risks of having her know about the prophecy and now you're paying the price for it. Only the Potter boy was supposed to help, but now you've put him in danger because of Ms. Granger."

The nervous feeling in Ron's gut turned to anger as it swirled back and forth making him nauseous. "What happened!? I don't understand! C'mon spit it out!"

Mike looked at her harshly, waiting for her to tell the truth. He knew she had omitted information since the beginning regarding Hermione, but didn't know to what extent. He was also unaware that she and Harry were helping from the 'outside' considering he had left Ron with Nettie while he had a head start. More doubt and suspicion began to consume his mind. He and Ron sensed something was wrong about their entire scheme. And that man on the chair. Who was that man? he thought.

"Fine! So much for protecting your friends. Jaunty came to me about some worries Mike had about your little girlfriend. You see, a patronus cannot travel between worlds like the messages you send here in the living world. Nothing can reach the dead, especially magic that pure that relies on happy memories. That's when I knew our worst fears had come true. Only the darkest of magic can make those sorts of spells work. I believe she's been influenced by the power of the Dark Souls. I'm not sure what exactly occurred but while you two were getting your asses handed to you, it seems she tried to end your other friend's life."

The words Nettie were saying didn't fully register in Ron's brain. He tilted his head and narrowed his gaze at her with shock travelling through his veins, though never fully reaching his facial muscles or skin. His complexion remained pale and matte, ice cold eyes still staring steadily at her lips. He wasn't sure he had heard her correctly.

"No…h-how's that possible? She wouldn't. She would never!"

"Like I said, I don't know the details or know how she came across the Dark Soul, but—"

"You're lying! How can you even say that!?"

"You two wanted to know, right? Here's the truth and I don't bullshit neither. In my dream, I saw her with them. The five. I had hoped that by preventing her from knowing anything then perhaps we'd be able to change things…But as soon as you presented me with this card," She raised it up showing the man with the bleeding mouth and the angelic brunette floating above him. "When I saw this, I knew. She's on their side, probably influenced by the evil I sensed. And it was confirmed by that patronus she sent you in the Marrow Gates. I suspect she sent it as a ploy into making you think everything was fine as she was being influenced by the evil. But I didn't know it would happen in a matter of minutes."

Ron had enough. He'd heard enough lies in his life and could only give a short laugh while shaking his head vigorously. "Bollocks! You've been using us from the start! Manipulating Mike and I into doing your chores! Hermione influenced by evil? Pfft! You've never met her, obviously. Let me guess, Voldemort is back from the grave too?"

Mike crossed his arms and looked sternly at Nettie as if contemplating what Ron was saying was true.

"Manipulating you? You've seen it for yourself, haven't you Weasley? How is it that the five know who you are then? Can't you see I've been trying to prevent this all from happening!? I told you from the very beginning not to mention a thing to anyone and now Potter has nearly paid the price! Don't believe me about your little girlfriend? See for yourself."

At that moment, her eyes glowed the same aura blue as Mike's. She waved her hands in a circular motion and created a similar looking vortex as before. Mike looked on intently, uncrossing his arms at the display. As she was done, it floated there in the middle of the room, making everyone stare at it curiously.

"Go then. Go to your friend. He's waiting for you. But know this, Weasley. I will not help him with his injuries like last time. Let this be a warning for getting into my face. I do not manipulate others into doing my bidding. This is for the greater good. You know it and you know it too Mike. Get that into your fucking heads."

Ron and Mike looked at one another. Mike had a stoic expression, but Ron was breathing heavily and livid inside after hearing her accusations about Hermione. He looked back to Nettie and met her fierce gaze, not blinking or backing down.

"Go on you fucking idiot! Go see if I'm lying and manipulating you! This is to show you what you've done by letting your friends know the true extent of the prophecy. This is clearly far too big for you, little man. Your insecurities have gotten the best of you. No wonder she's like that. You'll never change. Get the hell out of my sight."

And with that, Nettie turned around and stormed into the next room, closing it shut. The loud slam echoed through the room, followed by nothing but silence. The card with the man with the bloodied mouth had been dropped on the floor, going unnoticed by the two men.

Jaunty looked awkwardly between the them, coughed again and jumped on his feet. "Y'know, I left the gates unguarded, so uh, best be goin'. !'ll See you Michael! Lad, always a pleasure!" With a quick snap of his fingers, he immediately vanished.

Ron's face was flushed with anger, resembling the same shade of red as his hair. He hadn't noticed that his hands were clenched in a tight fist after hearing Nettie's last words. He didn't know what to think or what to believe anymore. He was curious by nature and concern finally got the best of him. He had to know for sure what was going on.

He looked over to Mike who had begun pacing back and forth. "What do you think?"

Mike stopped to look at him, then at the vortex. "I don't know. I've had issues like this before in the past with her, but she's always been right. In the end, it was always for the greater good. If she didn't want us to know certain information, then it was for a good reason. Nettie's complicated like that. But you're right as well. Something doesn't feel quite right. That man in the card…"

"Think he's behind this?"

Mike shrugged his shoulders, but gazed back at the vortex. "Anyways, I think you should go. If what she said is true about your friend, then he's going to need your help, for the time being. I can manage getting to the first temple."

Ron looked incredulously at him with a gentle concern. He'd been with him through some tough times already in Deadside and had genuine concern about him going alone to this first Temple of the Ancients. "Mike are you sure?"

"Yeah. I'm at level three. I'll see if I can break through any more coffin gates in the Paths of Shadow and make my way to the Temple of Fire. That should be the first. I'll see how many Dark Souls I can get. Go with Potter. She made it seem like he's in pretty bad shape. Maybe he's discovered something."

Ron still felt apprehensive and uneasy about the choice he had to make. "But I mean, how do I meet you again? Nettie's pissed off, there's no way for me to come back."

"I'll talk to her. You go on ahead. Trust me. I can do this."

"Are you sure you'll be alright without me?"

"Get the fuck out of here you ginger headed—"

"Okay, got it! Don't gotta be an arse."

Mike gave him one last grin as he motioned with his head to go forth into the vortex. Ron stood in front of it, studying it for a few seconds. His mind raced. He didn't know what to think. Hermione evil? No. There's no way. It's stupid to even think about, he thought. He sighed and without looking back, walked straight into the vortex until his world was turned on its end and everything turned black.

As Mike saw the vortex disappear, he looked down and picked up the card that had fallen on the floor. He saw the man's piercing blue eyes stare back at him with an evil smile. It was almost as if he was there beside him.


August 27, 2000 (7:06 pm)

12 Grimmauld Place – London, England

It was only a mere 2 hours ago when Harry had left again to play the hero. She was worried sick when he didn't return home last night and was hell-bent on asking the Auror office, even Hermione or Ron about his whereabouts. However, she decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. She knew how physically demanding and significant this investigation was to him. This was not unfamiliar territory. They've been through this before, with Ron and Harry having to leave under Robard's orders so suddenly. Except, now they were gone even longer.

When he finally did return earlier today, she was unconditionally relieved, yet angry by contrast. She had struck him multiple times on the chest with uncontrollable tears, followed by a considerable amount of snogging and tight embraces, until her questioning began. She felt it was warranted by how worried she was and Harry didn't fight her on this, smartly so.

Fear coursed within her for the most part, having countless thoughts about what could have gone wrong looping around her mind until it drove her mad. The loop included impatience for not at least informing her that he was fine. Nevertheless, she was glad he was okay, but her relief was ultimately short lived. She could not believe Harry had to leave again to help Ron after explaining what had occurred, leaving her to be consumed with worry once more.

She remembered Hermione's worries about her brother and had paid them no mind, but now finally understood what she must have been going through. Ginny was clearing the long wooden table within the kitchen as an attempt to clear her head when suddenly a loud crashing sound from the entry hall caused her to whisk up and look around startled. She moved her gaze up to the dresser that held the Black family crest and china and saw it shaking until they fell, shattering upon hitting the floor. She quickly turned to the door leading to the entry hall and walked over carefully.

"Kreacher? That you?" she asked without so much as a response. She opened the door and was frightened by the sight she saw. "Harry!" she exclaimed in a high pitch voice, slapping both hands over her face in shock.

Harry laid on the floor of the entry way against the wall, his face closed in a grimace, skin pale and diaphoretic with blood pooling onto the floor. Most of his right lower extremity was severed, particularly around the lower side of the calf, ankle and foot. The injury had raw quality, and appeared like an open leg avulsion. His eyes were tightened shut, tears forming at the edges and his chest rising from the severe pain.

She immediately went down to his side to attend him, but couldn't stop staring at the disturbing image of his leg. "Harry what happened!?" she demanded anxiously.

But he was unable to speak as he continued grimacing from the torturous pain. Searing fiery bursts pulsated around the wound, intensifying with each moment that passed. Harry's body quivered, causing the bloodied muscle that lay hung from his injury to burn even more.

"Wait here! I have a bottle of Dittany somewhere in the kitchen!" Ginny immediately got up and burst through the door searching desperately for it. She pulled out her wand and exclaimed, "Accio Dittany!" Suddenly a small vial with a rubber stopper flew into her grasp. She quickly ran back to Harry who now began sweating more profusely, appearing more pale and distressed.

"Hold on! This is gonna sting a bit!" she said as she kneeled against him and quickly applied a few drops on the wound, causing him to shout out in pain. "I'm sorry! Just a few more!" But Harry could not take the pain as he felt each drop like a sharp stabbing knife entering and twisting for more flesh, choking the breath from his lungs.

Ginny saw the wound begin to heal again slowly but knew he would require additional medical attention. Harry still had faltering gasps as he struggled to remain conscious. He finally opened his eyes to meet hers.

"What happened!? Please, Harry! Talk to me!" she said frightfully as she stroked his hair, trying anything to help him calm down.

But before he could say anything, he closed his eyes once more and lost consciousness.

"Oh Harry…"

Ginny went towards him and held his head in her arms before looking at his wound again. She hadn't noticed the tears that had formed in the corner of her eyes. "He's still bleeding. And he's pale. Oh no. He needs a healer! But—?"

Before she could finish her sentence, she heard another crashing sound coming from the kitchen. She turned her head and narrowed her gaze, suspecting Kreacher to have returned from wherever he was.

"Harry! Harry, are you in here!?"

Ginny immediately recognized the voice, utterly relieved. "Ron! In here! Quick!" she screamed loudly.

Less than a second later, Ron stormed into the entry hall and was aghast to see his little sister holding his best friend on the floor surrounded in a pool of blood. At first he couldn't believe his eyes as he thought the worst after seeing him unconscious. His vision moved to the revolting wound on his leg. Oh no, Nettie was right, he thought.

"Bloody hell…Is he...?"

"No! He's just unconscious. Quick! He's lost a lot of blood! He needs to see a healer!"

Coming to his senses, Ron swiftly moved over next to his sister to examine the wound.

"Ron, what the hell happened!?"

But he ignored her as he continued examining the wound. To him it didn't look like a wound sustained from a curse, but rather as a result from splinching. He would know as he's had quite the history with splinches in the past.

"Ron! Look at me!" Ginny shouted, pulling on his robes to face her. This got his attention as he could finally see the intense panic in her eyes. "What happened!?"

But he recalled what Nettie had told him and knew he was not at liberty to say anything about his case. He was already in deep water and knew this couldn't progress even further. He gulped before speaking and looking back at his wound.

"Look at his leg. Not even splinching can do damage like that. I think it's from a severing spell. But I'll take care of it. I know some basic healing techniques from Auror training."

Ginny stared incredulously at her brother until she saw him pull out his wand and utter several indiscernible words under his breath, wand pointed at the wound. A small white light was expressed from the wand that seemingly stopped the bleeding by cauterizing the wound. He uttered a different incantation and this time there was a green light that sucked up some of the blood from the floor into the wand, which was re-directed back inside the severed blood vessels.

Ginny stared in complete shock at seeing her once clumsy and lanky older brother perform such extraordinary magic. She then saw him conjure a form of wrapping that went around the wound carefully.

"I think that should do it. I'm no healer, but he should be okay, at least for now. But you should take him to St. Mungo's. Where's Kreacher? He can—"

"Ron, stop avoiding my question, you git! What happened!?

But He ignored her once again after seeing something strange beneath his robes.

"Don't ignore—!"

Ron moved her arm away as he fumbled out a book from under his robes. Ginny stopped mid-sentence after seeing the object. Her breathing and heart rate picked up even more at noticing a resemblance to Tom Riddle's diary.

Ron observed it carefully.

"What is that?" Ginny asked again.

Ron turned to the first page when he felt his heart sink to the ground.

"Being the Journal of

John G. Peirce

Otherwise known as

Jack the Ripper"

He quickly turned the pages and looked through the writings and sketches that were inside. Ginny looked on confusedly as Ron's eyes grew wider with the turn of each page. He landed on the same set of sketches of the corpse he and Mike saw in that little theater room in the Cathedral and stared open mouthed, trembling anxiously. He turned to see the engineer's key, the Trueforms, engine block and mechanical coffin gates, their entire plan seemingly fit into this diary.

Ron was flabbergasted. His mind was in a state of awe, horror and confusion. With each second that passed the tension in his body grew to the point where he was at the brink of explosion. He realized he was admittedly wrong and Nettie was right, which could only mean one thing. The one thing he feared the most and had reprimanded the voodoo priestess for on her insistence.

"Ron! What is it!?" he heard Ginny speak in a distant voice.

He no longer was there. His mind was in a flurry elsewhere, unable to assimilate his emotions nor the implications that came with Harry's battled self.

"It's Hermione. She did this," he uttered in a low pitch, looking worriedly onto Harry's pale face. He took a seat beside Harry, alongside the wall and putting his head between his head lost in time and space. Ginny's tears finally fell as her own head went down to Harry's chest, sobbing unceasingly. All three were in a state of deep pain coming in waves, completely hollow and with their lives crumbling at their fingertips.

Chapter Text

August 27, 2000 (7:31 pm)

St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries – London, England

"He's lost a lot of blood and would've been close to hypovolemic shock if it weren't for you. Vitals have been stabilizing, although he's going to need to be given blood replenishing potion every half hour. His body needs rest, most of all. It will take time for his wounds to heal. That severing spell did some real damage."

"How will his quality of life be affected, umm, you know after he recovers and everything?"

"With proper rehabilitation, I'd say he'll be back to normal baseline. We'll have to test his neurologic function in his leg and watch for signs of infection, but I expect him to make a full recovery. You saved his life. It was good of you to pay attention to the medical stuff in Auror training."

Ron didn't smile. Instead, he just stared unbelievably at his best friend as Ginny sat beside him, holding his hand worriedly.

"Just give him time to rest. He should be up later. If you'll excuse me, I have other patients to attend to."

Ron nodded as he saw the healer's green robes fly past him in a hurry. Ron pinched the bridge of his nose and tightened his eyes shut, thinking about how foolish he had been. He claimed the guilt for what happened to Harry. He'd been warned since the beginning by Nettie and was so pigheaded on insisting she'd been wrong. That doubt carried onto their latest conversation where she had the nerve to accuse Hermione of near murder. He couldn't believe her. Not until he saw Harry's condition with his own eyes. He had taken a beating to prevent Hermione from knowing and suffered for it. Now, it was Harry's turn to suffer, all because of him. Remorse is all that he felt.

Ginny was remarkably understanding of Ron's brief explanation of the events that unfolded, altering most of what happened. At first she couldn't quite register what had occurred but Ron had explained enough to get the gist of it. She hadn't spoken much, specifically when he told her about Hermione. In that moment, she could care less about the investigation and how she was involved. She was more concerned for Harry's safety and well-being, especially during a crucial time as this. And for that, Ron was grateful.

Though, she had ultimately agreed not to say a word to her family or friends about the specifics. Ron knew his family would surely be on their way and begin with their questioning, but he trusted Gin not to budge. All anyone had to know was that Harry Potter sustained a severing spell from another individual and that was it. Though, the word had spread like wildfire given their famous reputations now.

Ron was taken out of his thoughts by a familiar voice coming from behind him.

"Weasley!"

The red head turned around and was surprised to see Gawain Robards standing with Wilson and Barnes, two other Aurors that had also been investigating the muggle murders in London. "A word please," said his boss while moving his head in the direction of an empty corner. Ginny saw Ron appeared apprehensive but nodded in understanding to go forth. Ron followed the three men over to the corner until they were out of ear's reach from the rest of the staff.

"Sir, I can—"

"Surprised to see you're not ill with the flu Weasley. What, did you drink Pepperup potion?"

Ron looked confused at the men, appearing to have been missing something. "Umm…flu, sir?"

"Ms. Granger said you were feeling under the weather. Saw her snooping about in the Ministry with Potter. You, by any chance did not tell her about this investigation, did you? What about your sister and your family? You understand this is going to be the Daily Prophet's priority, don't you?"

"No! Sir I haven't—"

"Then I'd like to know what happened. I haven't seen much of the two of you lately and next thing you know I find out that Potter's missing a leg. What are the chances of that? Explain yourself."

Ron gulped and looked nervously at the three men who had suspicious looks on their faces. His mind raced, thinking in a state of panic for something to say. He knew he couldn't tell them the truth, yet in that moment he looked like a criminal resisting a confession. "I-I…" But as he was about to speak, a familiar gorgeous African American woman caught his attention. She walked by the men, and gave Ron a stern look before walking away.

It's Nettie, he thought. Ron's mind told him to follow her, but as he was about to make a move he was stopped by Wilson and Barnes. "Hold on Ron, we're not done with you yet," spoke Barnes. "We're on the same side, remember? You know something about the case. We can help, mate."

"Look, I really have to go. It's important!"

"And it's important that you tell us what the hell's going on. You don't want to be off the investigation team, do you?" cautioned Robards.

"We should give him Veritaserum if he doesn't talk," suggested Wilson in a blunt manner, eyeing Ron carefully.

The red head gave him a disgruntled expression. "Are you mad!? Listen! We just ran into some trouble after chasing a lead. This bloke just caught a good one out of nowhere before we were able to escape."

Robards threw his head back in laughter. "Caught a good one? Caught a good one!? Mate, you're going to have to do better than that. Harry Potter caught him a new one, can you believe that? And what about Ms. Granger? She wasn't in your home neither. A bit strange really."

"Sir you have to believe me! And she's…" In that moment he was searching desperately for an excuse that would get him out of deep water. He suggested the only thing he could think of. "…she's visiting her parents."

The three Aurors looked at one another and back at Ron, smiling stupidly at his pathetic attempt to be freed from questioning. But before they could ask any more, all men turned at the sound of a loud pitched voice that came out from the nearing fireplace.

"Ron! Ginny!" shouted Mrs. Weasley who practically ran towards the bed where Harry lied. She was accompanied by Arthur, George, Percy, Audrey, and followed by Andromeda Tonks with Teddy in her arms.

"Mum!" yelled Ron, thanking Merlin above for being saved by his mother.

He caught her attention as she shoved past other hospital staff and families to get to him. She took him into a tight embrace, making his face turn a nice shade of crimson red in front of his boss. "Oh my boy! You're safe! I was so worried!" she consoled as she rubbed his red locks. She suddenly turned to face Ron's boss. "Don't be questioning my son, you here!?" she warned with a finger aimed at Robards. "He's been through a lot and I don't want either of you to be pressuring him for answers, is that clear!?"

Wilson and Barnes looked at one another utterly terrified, but Robards could only smile with his hands raised. "We're doing no such thing Mrs. Weasley. We're just having a friendly chat. Isn't that right—"

"I don't care if you brought him to this corner to have tea! Leave him alone! Shame on you all. Poor Harry's been hurt and all you care about is work! Their safety is more important! Work can wait! You should have been there yourselves!"

Arthur Weasley finally came over in a flash to stop the commotion. "Okay Molly. I think they understand," he said pulling her aside and offering apologetic looks to the Aurors, who still appeared stunned at hearing Mrs. Weasley's outburst.

"And they should for good measure! Come on Ron." She grabbed him by the arm who still had an embarrassed look, but was glad to be cut loose.

As the Aurors saw him be whisked away by his family, Wilson spoke. "What should we do now sir?"

Robards thought for a quick moment, rubbing his chin. He felt a dripping sensation from the corner of his mouth before wiping it with his hands. He looked at it and saw two small drops of blood had oozed out. He had an idea.

"First thing's first. Damage control. People know Harry Potter is in St. Mungo's for injuries relating to a case, but they don't know specifics. Not even us, apparently. We have to take care of any press or others that may try something here. They've clearly discovered something. And Potter's vulnerable, so that's our priority. As for Weasley…he'll talk eventually. We'll give him his little family time. Meanwhile, we need to pay the Granger residence a visit. Let's go."

Wilson and Barnes looked at each confusedly before following Robards back to the fireplace. He looked back to Harry's bed surrounded by the Weasley family when he met Ron's gaze and offered him a wry smile. Ron didn't back down from the stare until he saw the Aurors leave once consumed by the flames.

The Weasley family surrounded the bed looking at Harry with genuine concern. Mrs. Weasley covered her mouth with her hands, forcing back tears at the corner of her eyes. She sat alongside Ginny when Mr. Weasley went over to console her, putting a hand on her shoulder. Ginny rested her head alongside her mother's shoulder as well, trying anything to find solace. Percy looked dumbfounded and intrigued at how much blood loss could have caused Harry's current appearance. Andromeda also put a hand over her mouth, appearing shocked more than anything.

"Hawwy?" asked the little toddler that was wrestling its way out of her arms as he tried to reach for his godfather. Andromeda moved over a bit so he could touch his hands when suddenly his hair turned to a shade of ginger, resembling the Weasley family's. "Yes Teddy. That's your godfather, Harry. He's…sleeping right now," uttered Andromeda in a sad tone.

"Bloody hell! What happened?" Ron heard George speak. "I bet he doesn't fancy looking like a vampire with all that paleness!"

"George!" scolded Mrs. Weasley.

He tightened his stance and looked at the group members remorsefully. "Umm…I mean, I hope he gets well soon!"

Mrs. Weasley gave him another warning look, which made him gulp nervously as he retreated slowly behind Percy.

"What did happen, Ron? Anything you can tell us?" asked Mr. Weasley calmly.

Ron looked over to Ginny, who moved her head away from her mother's shoulder and nodded a little too quickly. "Umm…he was just unlucky. We were chasing a lead and got caught up in some action. Before disapparating he was hit with a severing spell to the leg. Did some pretty bad damage. But the healer thinks he'll make a full recovery. Just needs rest."

Ron saw his father nod in understanding, but then sensed Audrey was staring at him fixedly. He tried to avoid her gaze, suspecting her to think if Harry's injuries had anything to do with the files she saw. It was not so long ago that he took over her mind and allowed themselves within the Death Chamber in the Department of Mysteries. He tried to diverge from that memory.

He then saw George look at the group around the bed as if looking for someone. "Hey, where's Hermione?" he said rather loudly.

Ginny's eyes widened and looked over to Ron, who began to panic. All the family members' eyes were suddenly moved to him after noticing she wasn't there.

"Yes, where is she?" asked Mr. Weasley again, looking back into the main floor of the Janus Thickey Ward.

Ron's body ceased to function for a moment as he thought of the same random excuse he used with Robards to explain Hermione's absence. "Umm…she's visiting her parents. Something important came up. Didn't want to worry her, you know."

"But she's coming, isn't she?" pressed George. "I hear some of the members of the DA are coming to see Harry. We'll have a big ol' reunion! But…a weird one, considering the circumstances."

"What!?" Ginny and Ron exclaimed in unison, causing the others to look at them rather suspiciously.

"Yeah a bit later. We all kept our Galleons, remember?"

"Oh no…" whispered Ron under his breath as his face stiffened, completely horrified. He ran his hand through his hair, teeth tugging at his cracking lower lip.

"I'm sure he'll be happy to see everyone," he heard Ginny speak. She looked at Ron with a face that told him she would take care of everything. He looked back at her gratefully and was finally able to breathe slowly. Though, his family still looked at him suspiciously and all Ron could do was look down to avoid their gaze.

George looked lost between the two and only scratched his head. The rest of their group finally re-focused their attention to Harry and Ron was grateful once more for the save. He had enough to worry about in his mind and could not fathom controlling himself against more constant questioning.

He saw Teddy reach for Harry's hand again and Ron could no longer take to watching the display. Intrusive thoughts of how Hermione severed most of Harry's leg scorched his mind. He still couldn't believe it. He suddenly felt nauseous like he was being dragged into a dark void. He turned to walk away for some fresh air from the group when George was about to go after him.

"Wait, George. Leave him be. He's upset and thinks he's at fault for what happened. Just give him time son."

George saw Ron leave but ultimately understood as he saw him disappear into the masses of other witches and wizards. The family all turned back to look at Harry who remained unconscious, still pale as ever, Ginny's hand never letting go of his.

As Ron made a turn into a hallway he was stopped by the same stunning ebony woman sitting on a nearby bench behind a Witch Weekly magazine. "How can people read this bullshit?" she said in her distinct thick African accent.

Ron was again struck with surprise to see Nettie in St. Mungos after reprimanding her, but knew he shouldn't have. It was expected really, to have seen her again. He looked around the hallway for any sign of being followed by his family before taking a seat next to her. She was still engrossed in the magazine. "I still don't understand. Hermione would never do this willingly. She nearly cut Harry's leg off!"

Nettie eventually put the magazine down as she saw several healers and other witches running across the halls. "No. She wouldn't have."

Ron's back was hunched over as he took interest at the scars he sustained from the Brain Room. He recollected the events that had occurred prior to Deadside, and the promise he made to her. "Hermione's kind, brilliant and strong. Not evil. In any sort of way. Hell, I mean she's a little scary, sometimes, but so selfless and brave. She would never be easily influenced. I can't say the same. I've walked out on my friends not once, but twice," he said dejectedly while still staring at his scars.

Nettie looked at him with a frown, studying the guilt and uncertainty written all over his face. "You've seen Mike when he gets a Dark Soul, I presume?"

He looked up to her face and nodded.

"It's a parasite. Poison. Burning your core until you want to die. I can only imagine what it was like for her. The serial killers, their hearts are already tainted so they can embrace it more easily. But Granger, her heart is pure. I fear there's a constant battle raging in her mind."

"But who could have done this and why her? The muggle killer? She met him at a coffee shop, apparently. It happened while I was away when Mike brought me to your church the first time. Except his identity was unbeknownst to her at the time, I suppose."

Nettie tilted her head in understanding. "Perhaps. Though, it wouldn't explain how he was able to muster another Dark Soul. I still think something bigger is on the horizon."

The two sat quietly for a few seconds before Ron remembered the Les Cartes. He took them out of his pocket and began searching through them, but found to be missing a card from the Prophecy. He then began searching vigorously for it, emptying all his pockets.

"Looking for this?" she asked, holding the one he'd been looking for.

He took it in his hands and analyzed it. It was the last card of the Prophecy, before the next set of cards focused on strange items without any text. It was the card with the man sitting on the throne like a king and the beautiful brunette above him. He read it aloud. "And Legion took the power of the Dark Souls unto him." He looked over to Nettie. "Legion. I know I've asked before, but you wouldn't—"

"No. Unfortunately," she said bluntly.

Ron nodded and took one last look at it before putting it back with the other cards. "The phrase that card says is not very inspiring for us. But Mike didn't seem bothered. He feels like he could take on anything."

Nettie smiled. "That he does."

His head hung over again as he was lost in deep thought with his elbow on his knee. "It doesn't make sense. Why use Hermione? I suppose she's the best of us. By taking her, we're sort of fucked, right? I mean if it weren't for her the Horcrux hunt would've been a failure."

"Like I said before. I don't know the details. It was a long time coming so I guess you're right. You know what she did."

"But it wasn't her! She couldn't have done this! Not after everything we've been through. She's stronger than that..."

She remained tight lipped and decided it wasn't worth pressing him to think otherwise. She tried a different approach. "I can see why you still have your doubts. I suppose I would too if the roles were reversed." She saw him continue studying the scars in his forearms as if they were some sort of masterpiece. "Feeling sorry for yourself isn't going to do anyone any good. Believe me, I've been there. We still have work to do. The Prophecy is upon us with each minute that passes—" But Ron appeared elsewhere, discouraged and no longer listening. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, using her last resort. "All I'm saying is…there might be a way to bring her back."

At hearing this, Ron's head sprung up as if he'd been struck by a bolt of electricity. His eyes widened as he saw her staring directly in front of them with such focus. She continued. "There's only one form of magic strong enough to get through to her. But I'm not sure if you can use it."

Ron glared intensely, eager to know how to bring her back. "What is it!?" he implored.

Nettie looked back to him, the shine of blue aura flickering within her eyes once more. "I think you already know."

Ron looked at her completely bewildered, searching his mind for what that secret magic could possibly be. "I-I'm not sure that I do. Please, tell me!"

Nettie chuckled as she crossed her arms behind her head, leaned back and looked to the ceiling almost as if there was something captivating by it. "How do you think Potter survived this long? Survived Voldemort? The boy who lived, defeating the Dark Lord with only so much of a scar to be left behind. Sounds like the perfect story."

The intense desire to know what magic could help Hermione suddenly diminished from Ron's mind. He thought about what she had said. He'd heard it plenty of times before. He raised his eyebrows recalling Harry's nightmares during Hogwarts. "It was his mum. Her sacrifice somehow protected him."

Nettie jumped to stare at him excitedly. "Exactly! Yes! Her love for him was so powerful that it physically made it impossible for Voldemort to kill him, and in doing so the Dark Lord brought upon his own demise. You see, love is what we live for. The one thing that lifts us and breaks us down simultaneously. The most ancient of all forms of magic, and the one thing that protects us from all evil. Why? Because evil cannot understand it. All it knows is malice and hatred. Love is so deep and pure that it blights away the dark. It may be the only thing to bring back Ms. Granger."

The two saw more staff members running by them and heard more commotion from beyond the ward. No Weasley family members appeared to be looking for Ron, much to his relief. He tried to process her words. "But how? I know I love Hermione, but I don't know what to do, where to look, or where to start. You were right. It's my fault Harry's hurt. I couldn't protect Hermione and now she's with them. I still can't believe it if I'm honest. I don't know what to do. I'm just a failure." He took interest back at his scars, still wondering where he went wrong with Hermione and even with himself.

Another sigh was heard from Nettie. "Look at me Ron. Failure is life's greatest teacher. Without it we're lost, just as you are now. Take me for example. I was once a slave long ago. Taken away from my family to serve a master I loathed. I've made mistakes I'm not proud of and even took life away for the wrong reasons. I've failed over and over again in my life, Ron. We fall as we fail and must learn to pick ourselves up."

Ron remained staring at his scars woefully.

"Look at the people around here. Healers and such. You don't think they've ever failed? These people choose to be here and help. Everyday people get hurt. Everyday evil forces attempt to seduce the living with temptations that will send them to spend an eternity in Deadside. That's why I do what I do. That's why I've learned from my mistakes and try to improve making Liveside a safer place. The world constantly has new dangers. Me and Mike have done our best, but it's not nearly enough. Other people doing good, real heroes like you, like the people here, are the reason this world hasn't turned into chaos."

Ron gave a short laugh. "Me, a hero? Not bloody likely."

"Oh? Didn't you help defeat Voldemort? You think Potter could've done it without you? I hear your little trio is quite famous now."

"That was different," he said flatly.

"Well I don't see it that way. I believe there's a hero within everybody. Everyone fails at what they're supposed to be. The measure of a person, a hero, is how they succeed at being who they are."

"But Hermione…and Mike…I-I—"

"You can't keep doubting yourself forever Ron. You're afraid. But that's okay. It's not Ms. Granger's pain that you're afraid of. It's yours, Ron. And as frightening as it may be…that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it…embrace it…It will make you more powerful than you could ever imagine. It's the greatest gift we have to bear their pain without breaking. And it's born from the most human power. Hope. Without hope we have nothing and it's stronger than fear. I still have hope for humanity. And I still believe in you."

Ron finally looked up to her and took several moments before his famous lopsided grin was formed, his ears turning red in unison. He felt transfixed in that moment, lost and speechless by her presence. He was moved by her words of wisdom and feared the inevitable again, facing Hermione. He treasured their memories and wanted to bask in them in that moment, but he knew he had a duty to do. Nettie was right. He couldn't just sit around and feel sorry for himself. He walked out on them before but not this time. This time he would do it for Harry. And especially Hermione. He owed it to them.

"You sure know how to give a speech," he said with a beaming smile.

"Oh piss off," she said returning the smile and shaking her head. She crossed her legs and her arms, sitting back comfortably against the bench. "I don't manipulate men, Ron. I take them from their lowest points and build them back up. Mike hasn't told you yet, has he?"

He made another confused face. "About?"

"His family. His tragic past. Your face tells me you don't know about his constant struggle."

"What happened?"

"I'm afraid I cannot say. I'm not the right person to say. But you know a similar pain, same as does your family."

Ron's confused expression changed again, knowing full well where she was going.

"I know about what happened to your brother."

His thoughts had landed on Fred before she had finished her sentence. He suddenly felt cold and distant at her reminder. It was gentle, but it took him by surprise. He raised his eyebrows and sighed. "I can't believe I would ever say this, but I miss him. Everyday. It's been especially hard for George…but—"

"I apologize. But you now have the chance to do right by them. Look at the time. I hope you haven't forgotten about the time factor in Deadside."

Ron's desolate expression turned to anxiety as he looked up at the clock within the hallway. It read 7:40 pm, indicating that a significant amount of time had passed in Deadside where Mike was all alone.

"Oh no…"

"Don't worry. Mike's done some good progress in your absence. He was able to find and infiltrate the Temple of Fire. Not to mention he even found some of the weapons left behind by his esteemed predecessor. He's now at twenty-nine Dark Souls and at shadow power level five. Quite impressive. Except, he was unable to retrieve the blade. He needs your help! He's even given me a location for you to warp to. Remember what I've told you. You have the prophecy. You hold the power to help end this once and for all. And Ms. Granger will come find you once again. Use your love for her…and it will save her."

Ron took in everything she was saying and let out a deep breath. The task at hand seemed more daunting than ever, but he understood. And knew full well what had to be done.

He nodded and felt newly determined to get this done. Courage sparked inside him like a lightbulb, now eager to get this over with.

Anger finally crossed his mind as he focused on their influence on Hermione. "My greatest teacher was failure. That won't happen again. They're gonna bloody well pay for what they've done."

Nettie smiled and got up from the bench. "Now that's what I like to hear." She began to lead the way back to his family.

As Ron was about to follow suit, he rummaged through his robes for his wand when he felt something sturdy. He suddenly remembered about Jack's diary and caught Nettie's attention once more. "Hold on! Another thing…look at what Harry found." He pulled out the diary and handed it to her.

She took it curiously and turned to the first page. He read whose diary it belonged to and looked back up at Ron with a smile.


Temple of Fire – Deadside

Mike took in the enormous chamber deep within the Temple staring completely in awe. It had to be the size of an entire stadium, and funnily enough resembled it so as it was enclosed in a dome shape. The first thing that caught his attention upon entering was a sort of large claw shaped mechanism in the center of the ceiling hung by four chains. Though, instead of the typical three blades, the chains appeared to be clasping half of a round hollow structure, resembling a ring.

Mike observed the structure confusedly as to why it only held onto one half. He noticed he was on a platform high above from the chamber's floor and moved to the edge for a better look. He was nearly fifty feet from below with lava encompassing most of the ground. He saw several other small wooden platforms scattered around the lava that made it possible to stand on. The walls in the chamber were made of filthy stone, engraved with unique hieroglyphics that made no sense to Mike.

He then focused his attention to the center of the ground where a particular platform held the second half of the ring-like structure hanging above. He looked between the two halves and figured the top half had to be lowered to the bottom, but why, he thought. He searched around the gloomy green ceiling of the chamber and saw four blocks, spaced out evenly across from one another and attached to what looked like ancient laser cannons.

"What the hell is this place?" he asked himself.

There was still no sign of the L'Eclipser blade anywhere. The Temple of Fire was of great length, filled with mazes and booby traps, not to mention the Sisters of Blood that were protecting the Govi. It took so much work to even reach the chamber he was in, having to activate the different levels of a pyramid and make his way through other dangerous rooms.

He continued to observe the chamber's floor and noted several small alcoves along the walls. He wondered if there was anything important in them. He remained vigilant for any sign of the Sisters and was relieved not to see any. He took a deep breath and jumped, landing safely on a platform on the ground without so much of a broken bone. Shadow level five had clearly granted him new strengths. He stood directly in front of the lower half of the ring-like structure and looked above to the chains holding the other half.

"I gotta bring it down somehow, but for what?" He looked to his left at the nearby alcove and saw something that caught his eye. He jumped across two other platforms until he reached it along the wall. "It's another one of those switches," he said eyeing it carefully. Prior to reaching the chamber, Mike was required to push large square shaped switches around the Temple to activate the levels of a pyramid. The peak of this pyramid brought him forth through a series of rooms filled with traps until he eventually reached the large dome shaped chamber he was in. Though, after each switch he pushed, the Sisters of Blood came to attack him and so he was wary of pushing the switch in front of him.

They had given him some trouble, but ultimately felt they weren't anything he couldn't handle. He pushed the button and looked back up at the claw shaped mechanism. He heard a loud clanking sound of rusted chains and saw it descend a few feet before it stopped again. "Shit, well what do you know? I guess each alcove has a button to bring that shit down. But no sisters awake…" He frowned and continued to look around the room, surprised to find nothing. No sign of the blue skinned women guarding the Temple.

Walking out of the alcove, Mike jumped onto the next platform when suddenly he was hit by a beam of blue light from above. The impact knocked him back to the edge of the platform, causing him to nearly be engulfed by the flames. "Arghh! Shit! What the—?" He looked up and saw a blue figure charging toward him from above.

Before it could strike him, he rolled away quickly, his head barely missed. The figure glared at him with animosity as it began floating back up in the air. It was one of the Sisters of Blood except she looked much different than the rest. Her blue skin appeared lighter in color, marked with glowing yellow tattoos of indiscernible text. She was bald and had red bandages over her breasts and pelvis acting as the only piece of clothing she had on.

Mike heard her shouting at him in an Ancient tongue, almost as if she was accusing him of crime. Though, he couldn't understand a word. He pulled out his shadow gun and began shooting charged blasts in her direction. The sound of each shot was much louder and fiercer than before, thanks to the amount of Dark Souls Mike now possessed.

The Sister flew up swiftly like a jet boom and went to the other side of the chamber. "That all you got!?" taunted Mike, before another blue blast came soaring his way in a flash. "Oh, shit!" he exclaimed diving sideways and nearly falling off the platform once more. Guess, that's not all she got, he thought to himself. He got up briskly and jumped over to the next platform, trying to make his way to the next alcove.

More blasts were shot in his direction from behind him, each one closer and closer to his head. He returned the favor to the Sister, but she was too far away to be hit. Increasing his speed, he finally jumped onto the platform connecting the next alcove and went over to push the button. Just as he did so, the rattling chains came down a few feet once more before stopping again. Another Sister came out of nowhere and flew in his direction from above, screaming out in lust for blood.

"Fuck! These bitches are crazier than the rest! Oh, shit!" he exclaimed again, just as another blast flew past his head. Where's Weasley!? he ranted in his mind as he sprinted across more platforms in a hurry, trying to avoid being beheaded or burned at all costs. He moved to the platform directly opposite from the entrance of the chamber and pushed yet another button.

Just like before, the chain lowered even further nearly connecting the second half of the ring structure. A third Sister came out from above, screaming and zooming towards him in a rush. Mike charged up his shadow gun and pulled on the trigger multiple times, letting her have several of his own Aura blasts. They landed directly on her chest, provoking her to scream louder. She withdrew away quickly before being hit any more. Mike retreated as well until his back touched the wall. As he looked up to the ceiling he saw all three charging their energy in unison.

"C'mon then!" he declared as he too charged his shadow gun, concentrating every bit of his own power into the blast. As he was about to let it rip, he saw two of the Sisters suddenly disappear, throwing off his concentration.

"What—!?"

The remaining Sister launched the large blue beam of energy his way, forcing Mike to sprint away from the wall. But it was too late. The beam had grazed him on his left arm, causing him to stumble forth once again. As he was about to tilt over to the lava he was caught by someone and suddenly lifted into the air. "Shiiitttt!" he exclaimed as he was being held by another Sister that had teleported. She dragged him along the walls of the chamber causing Mike to badly scrape his back, shoulder, and torso. She then began tossing him repeatedly onto the walls and into the air like a rag doll.

"Argghh, fuck!" he shouted before another blast sent him flying past the claw structure. He hit the wall opposite and fell from fifty feet once more, luckily landing on a platform below. He struggled to breathe as the impact knocked the wind out of him. He grimaced in pain and grunted, doing his best to crawl away on the floor.

The three Sisters flew to him again in a dash and landed simultaneously around him in a circle. He heard them speak the same Ancient dialect as before and turned on his backside to face them. "Do…your…worse," he grunted, coughing profusely and grasping his abdomen. "I-I cannot die. I am the next Shadow Man in line…" As he stated this he heard them look at one another before they began to speak much faster in their native tongue. He saw their hands began glowing blue light and suspected they were chanting for some kind of killing ritual, a sacrifice for the Ancients.

He glared at them with a sharp expression fearlessly. "I am the Lord of Deadside! Shadowborn at the confluence of worlds to walk between…" Mike noticed their chanting became louder and faster. "Liveside is without the meaning that my partly living possesses here, in Deadside, where the darkness is manifest at the edges of reason." He saw the Sisters raise their arms, energy focusing in their palms that increased by the second. "As a god I step forth upon the writhing, suppurating surface of the Deadside serpent! What sleep is here? What dreams there are in the unctuous coilings of the snake's mortal shuffling…" He saw the Sisters' eyes glow bright yellow looking deviously terrifying and ready for his downfall. Mike looked at his shadowgun, raising it up against the mask on his chest for them to see. "…Weapon in my hand, my hand, the arcing deathblow at the End of All Things. The horror…the horror, I embrace it!"

But before the Sisters could launch their blast and execute him, they were suddenly swept off their feet and dangled upside down by their ankles. Mike looked on extraordinarily at them as they screamed in shock and made forceful efforts to be free uselessly. He then looked up at the entrance to the chamber and saw a distinct shade of red. His panicked face turned to a smile and he abruptly began laughing uncontrollably. "You sonofabitch! You could've came here sooner you know!"

Ron made his way down from the platform, slowing his descent with a spell and jumping across platform to platform until he reached the Sisters. He made a swish with his wand and pointed it to the lava below, forcing the Sisters down into the flames. They screamed forcefully, expelling their last breath from their lungs, until they were gone.

Ron focused his attention back at Mike who continued coughing profusely. "What took you so long? I could've done it all myself," joked Mike.

"Clearly you couldn't," replied Ron with a stupid grin.

"Your magic worked. I thought—"

"Nettie, mate. I've got it all figured out now."

"Should've known."

If Ron was serious, he didn't know if his magic would exactly work. Shortly after showing Nettie Jack's journal, he also told her about his struggles with certain magic spells not working in the world of the dead. She had replied the same thing Mike did. His form of magic just didn't work there. They were in Deadside after all. Magic had to be used with malicious intent in order to work in Deadside, with no holding back and wanting to destroy the enemy at all costs. This was so unlike Ron, but figured he had to try, at least for the time being.

"Yeah well, we got no time to waste. Let's finish this."

Mike nodded and was helped up by Ron, causing him to grimace more in pain. As Ron did a one over at him, he looked surprised. "Shit, look at your back…and your arm. What happened?"

"Got thrown around by them. But it's nothing let's go," he said wincing in pain with each step he took.

"Here, let me just—" Ron aimed his wand at his wounds and chanted something under his breath. A red light from his wand touched the large gashes making them heal instantaneously. "There. You alright?"

Mike felt oddly satisfied in a few moments and seemed to regain most of his strength. "Yeah. I'm good. Let's go."

"So what the bloody hell is this place? Nettie's vortex sent me to the top of some pyramid by a door made of skin. Had to go past swinging hammers, large scythes, and jump over lava just to get to here. Bloody hell do we do now?"

"No idea. But you don't know the half of it. This Temple is huge. There's a lot more to it than just that pyramid. I think I found most of the Dark Souls around here. Some I couldn't access because of the lava. But I've seen no sign of the blade yet."

Ron sighed. "Great. So now we're in this large chamber and for what again?"

Mike pointed up to the large claw shaped mechanism above. "See that claw thing up there? There's buttons around this place in each alcove that bring it down. I've activated three already, but there's still two more over there. I think it may open a secret passage or something. Except, every time I pressed one a Sister came flying out."

"You mean those blue things that were about to wank you off just now?

"Oh fuck off!"

Ron grinned. "So we push them then? Only two left, right? Should be easy enough."

"Only because you haven't faced them directly yet. C'mon let's go. I'll push one and you another."

Ron nodded and began to jump to the next platforms that connected to the nearby alcove. Mike did the same. "Alright. We should press one at a time. That way if a Sister does come out, we only face one until we get rid of her." Ron nodded again and pushed the button after Mike gave him the okay. The two looked up after hearing the clanking sound of the chains descending, the two halves now only a few feet away from touching.

They were waiting for the Sister to come out and attack but nothing happened. A few seconds passed before Ron spoke. "So? What now? Nothing's happening."

"I don't understand…"

"Press yours. See if they come out."

Mike thought for a few seconds before complying. The two saw the chains fall until the two halves of the ring-like structure fastened tightly. Suddenly a loud crashing cymbal sound was heard with a thundering horn blown in the distance. Ron looked around at the high ceiling and noticed the four blocks with the cannons began glowing red. He gulped as his grasp tightened around his wand, waiting for the threat to come.

But nothing ever came. The horn sound had diminished, leaving the two men utterly confused. Mike jumped over to the center platform and gazed at the ring-like structure in awe. It appeared to be made of bone with handles on the top half and steps on the lower half making it possible to stand inside it.

He saw text engraved around the ring and read it. "Step forth Shadow Man and receive the gift of the Temple of Fire. Toucher – The Gad of The Loa."

Mike's glowing eyes widened in disbelief as Ron joined him. "What's that?"

Mike continued gaping at the structure and around the chamber in astonishment, finally realizing where they were.

"Hey Mike—"

"Spoken of in whispers at the Deadside margins, in the hushed and shivering tones of the lurking, lurching revenants – these ancient places, blood temples to the Loa, wherein the Dark Souls did find their secret corner, hidden here by the sanguinary sisters steeped in voodoo lore…"

Ron narrowed his eyes at him, confused about what he was saying. "I don't understand. What—"

"Take out the Prophecy. I know where we are. Maxim St. James, you crazy bastard…"

Ron fumbled the Prophecy cards out quickly as Mike took them away from him. "We've been focusing too much on the prophecy. We forget there's more. Look." Mike showed Ron the rest of the cards they ignored as they only demonstrated pictures of strange objects without text. "I've already collected a few of these items. I know I had seen them before." As they went through each card they saw a baton on a pedestal, a bony hand holding a fireball, another bone banging on drums, a small shining jar, a skull spitting fire with its spine still intact, a hand with unique bracelets climbing a bloodfall, and a shield with a swirling pattern on it.

But Ron still couldn't make out the significance of them and the chamber they were in. "I don't understand. So, these are weapons?" Mike nodded and continued looking through each of them. "But what do they have anything to do with that claw thing there?" Mike landed on a specific card that caught his attention. He handed it to Ron. It appeared to be in three parts. It was definitely a blade, but a unique one at that. The hilt was of a brown figure holding its arms up, connected to what appeared like a sun under an eclipse. The piece on the other side connecting to the sun was a silver blade. The link finally rang a bell in Ron's brain.

"It's the blade…"

Mike smiled but didn't stop there. "And check these out. I heard stories about these. I thought they were only legend."

Ron was handed three cards and he observed them carefully. He saw the same ebony skinned man resembling Mike, though only his backside could be seen that was marked with strange red colored designs. One had the man touching fire with his hands and notably his arms were engraved with red markings, similar to tattoos. The next card had another red design on the man's lower back, though this time he appeared to be walking on pits of fire. The third card showed a design on the man's upper back, seemingly connecting the markings on the lower back and arms. This time the man was seen being consumed by flame, but Ron didn't get the connection to the chamber.

"Mike I still—"

"Weasley, we're in the Temple of Fire! Look above you. See those four cannons around the edges of the ceiling? They're to imprint the sacred markings of the Ancients. The same ones you see on the cards. They're known as Gads, tattoos that enable the ability to protect one from elemental fire. I think this ring takes you up and engraves them in. I think I understand now. Each temple is a trial to prove your worth to hold the blade. Toucher, that he may grasp fire, yet feel no pain. Marcher, that he may walk over burning coals. And Nager, that he may be consumed by flame, yet no harm shall come to him. If I'm right…each Gad is required to find a piece of the blade."

"Bloody hell…" uttered Ron, staring wide eyed and open mouthed at the ceiling. His gaze shifted to the claw mechanism. The ring would be hauled up with him inside, though he felt apprehensive about it. "Are you sure—"

"I'm going for it." Without warning, Mike jumped into the ring and held onto the handles before the chains began pulling him up to the ceiling.

"Mike, wait!" exclaimed Ron, but it was already too late. He saw him be escalated back up near the ceiling until the rattling chains finally came to a stop. Ron looked around at the four cannons and saw them begin charging red beams of light. In a matter of seconds all four cannons shot narrow red beams at Mike, causing him to scream out in utter agony.

"Mike!" yelled Ron who jumped a few platforms away from the center to have a better look. He couldn't see what was going on as Mike's entire body was engulfed in red light, though he heard his continuous howls of suffering. Ron raised his arm up, wand ready to try to disarm the mechanism above, when suddenly all four cannons stopped.

The shining red light continued glimmering around Mike's body before it finally diminished. As Ron saw it clear he saw Mike jump off the ring like structure and land safely back onto the center platform with one knee on the ground and his head down. Ron walked over carefully, never blinking to get a good look at his steaming body. As Mike stood up, Ron stopped in his tracks and raised his wand to him, not trusting what just occurred.

Ron saw Mike observing at his forearms in wonder as they were now embedded with searing red flames. The tattoos were pulsating as if actively burning within Mike's skin, except he felt no pain. It was quite the opposite. He felt as if a new power had been awakened within him.

Mike looked up to him in shock. "It worked…"

But before Ron could speak, the lava below began shaking, stumbling the two men over. They looked around anxiously, already bracing themselves for another trap. Suddenly a jet geyser full of scorching lava shot into the ceiling revealing a glowing object that floated directly in front of them. The shaking had then stopped. Ron's chest heaved as he stared at the strange object that glided down slowly. It resembled a man with its arms in the air palms up as if trying to hold something up along its back. It also looked like it was engrossed in flame as a simmering flare surrounded it.

Both men walked to it, understanding what it was. "It's the first piece…" spoke Ron, who was still in shock by what had just occurred.

Mike looked over to him and nodded, a slight grin forming on his face. "If I'm right, then I can touch it."

"Are you sure? Don't wanna burn your bloody arse off."

"We'll see." Mike raised his hand to the object and with slight hesitation gripped the object by its torso. Ron narrowed his eyes and put an arm up in defense, but he saw the flare around it disappear. Mike was right. They had been worthy. He looked at the object that also had text engraved into it. La Lame – The Power That Binds.

"Bloody hell! That's it, ain't it? The first piece. Now we gotta find two more."

Mike took a sigh of relief gripping the object tightly. "The shit we do just to save the world. C'mon. Let's get the hell out of here," he said as he pulled out his little brother's teddy bear.

Ron was relieved to leave the chamber but before they could go he had a quick look around to ensure it was safe to discuss Jack's diary. "Hey, wait. I need to show you something." He rummaged through his robes and pulled out the diary. Mike took it and looked at it curiously.

"What's this?"

"Read it. Harry did it. He's found a way to bring them down."


Engine Block, Asylum – Deadside

The two walked along a small corridor until they finally reached a two-way metal gate that opened as they approached it. Upon entering through, Hermione was welcomed with a terrifying and flustering sight. They were in a hugely tall and vast hallway resembling a prison wing nearly fifty times in size. She gaped in horror at the twenty-foot-tall red cages stacked about ten rows high and beside a few hundred wide on both sides of the hallway. She walked towards the center of the enormous hallway and stared at both sides of the extensive and monumental cages. She had seen this place before in Jack's diary. Except It was much more broad in person. She was without words.

She heard another door open that was across from the one she came out of with Jack. She narrowed her gaze at a short man that came out walking with a funny gait. He was pale as a ghost, thin and had small beady eyes, nearly resembling a man of Asian descent. He was barefoot, wore blue overalls and to complement his perturbing appearance, also wore night vision goggles on his head. Hermione had seen the man before in the muggle files with Ron. He was another serial killer.

She continued to look at him plainly until he suddenly ran up to her in a flash, causing her to panic. She attempted to run away before being caught by Jack who held her tightly. The strange man began sniffing her body. "Whoa! It's okay Hermione! He's just smelling you. Think of it as a friendly welcome. He's strange like that by nature," explained Jack.

"You've got to be kidding me!" she yelled out in disgust, tossing and kicking around.

The strange man stopped and took a good long look at her face, almost as if he was analyzing it for remembrance. He then gave a wicked smile and began prancing up and down while clapping like some kind of ecstatic mad man. "Jack oh Jack oh Jack! Master will be pleased! Oh, yes! I could see it now!" the man said beamingly.

Hermione grew even wary of the man's behavior and as she was let go by Jack she stepped away from them. Jack paid her no mind as he went over to embrace the strange man. The image of the two killers hugging was so disturbing to her that it made her nauseous.

"Relax Avery we're not done quite yet. But yes, she's with us now. Hermione, come. I suspect you know Avery Marx. He's another yank stationed in the states. New York to be exact. Except he's not in prison like the rest of the bunch, but rather operates from an abandoned hotel. His work is quite marvelous. Come and say hello." But Hermione thought Jack was crazy if he thought she would even dare to shake the man's hand. There was no way in hell she would get close to him. "Oh come on Hermione! He won't bite, I swear."

"I swear too!" Avery exclaimed just as his arm shot up.

She gulped. "It's err…nice to meet your…uh…acquaintance. But I'm fine here," replied Hermione coldly.

Avery then sat on the metal flooring in criss-cross position, suddenly appearing sad that Hermione didn't approach him. Jack smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "Don't mind her, mate. How's the schism coming along?"

Avery jumped up again in a flash. "Been ready, ready, ready! Power's been cut so no way in or out! No way in or out! Just waiting for the word! I've been craving new blood!"

"Excellent. Everything is going as planned," he said with a wicked smile.

Hermione ignored the vile men to their own as she continued staring up at the hundreds of cages within the massive hallway. She looked to a particular corner and saw that a large crane had taken ahold of one of the cages and stacked it on top of another. She hugged herself as she felt a sudden cool breeze hit her body. Another crane came from the other side and picked up another cage. Hermione eyed it carefully as it brought the rattling cage down to the floor a few feet from where they stood.

The crane dropped the cage delicately before it rose again. She heard Jack calling her again. "Hermione, I want to show you something," he said as he headed toward the cage with Avery closely behind him.

She gulped before following the two men, knowing exactly what was in those cages. As she approached the cage it was difficult for her to see anything due to the darkness. Most of the cage was solid red metal, as only one side showed the traditional bars allowing them to see inside. Except this cage was awfully dark. The only thing Hermione could make out was the outline of a large twenty-foot figure inside it.

"Meet our Trueforms. When the time of judgement comes, they will do right by this world."

Hermione approached it slowly and found herself directly in front of it. She studied it carefully before the beast suddenly gave out a violent roar, striking its claws savagely against the metal bars in a fury. Hermione flinched in fear, retreating away as she was once again caught by Jack. He laughed just as Avery jumped up and down again. "Don't worry. It can't do anything. It can't get out of those cages unless we let it out." But Hermione saw the cage rattling around fiercely, and became more nervous by the second.

She saw the angry beast bang its head onto the bars and continue to roar ferociously as if a clash of thunder echoed into the sky. She was let go again by Jack who began walking away from the beast and toward the same door Avery had come out of. "This is just the beginning of the end Hermione. Come. The Engine Block awaits. It's almost time for you to face your beloved," he said with a wicked smile. She heard him let out an evil laugh that echoed into the darkness. As she followed suit, she looked back at the creature's cage thinking if she too had succumbed to madness.